Will DuPage Airport's new $1.3 million customs facility lure more international travelers?

  • The DuPage Airport in West Chicago has a new customs facility for international arrivals. Officials say the facility will boost the airport's appeal for international business travelers and allow it to meet federal safety standards.

    The DuPage Airport in West Chicago has a new customs facility for international arrivals. Officials say the facility will boost the airport's appeal for international business travelers and allow it to meet federal safety standards. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Posted9/1/2022 5:30 AM

DuPage Airport has opened a $1.3 million U.S. Customs and Border Protection center intended to set it apart from other flight hubs in the suburbs and bring more convenience to international business travelers.

The West Chicago airport has had its own customs agent for 25 years. But the new customs office is designed to bolster the airport's appeal with corporate jet-setters from abroad and meet updated federal security and facility requirements. DuPage ranks as the third-busiest airport in Illinois, behind O'Hare and Midway.

 

"This is just another amenity that makes DuPage the premier business airport in the region and one of the premier business airports in the nation," Executive Director Mark Doles said. "You've got U.S. Customs here. You've got the longest runway in Chicagoland outside of O'Hare. You have a 24-hour air traffic control tower that the other airports don't have, besides Midway and O'Hare."

Other general aviation airports have built new customs facilities from the ground up. Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling last year unveiled a $3 million building for customs inspections on the site of a former hangar.

DuPage was able to renovate existing space in its main flight center to make way for what Doles described as a more efficient customs operation that will save time for international fliers.

"Unlike the other airports that had to go build stand-alone buildings and facilities," Doles said, "ours provides a much better customer experience in that they don't have to go to a separate building, shut the aircraft down, clear customs, potentially get back on the aircraft and go to where their hangar is or where their business is located on the airport."

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The airport typically averages more than 220 international arrivals annually, or about four to five a week. Overall, DuPage is on pace to record about 114,000 takeoffs and landings this year.

More than 300 aircraft, 80 of which are jets, use the airport as a base of operation, Doles said.

"During the pandemic, there was a gigantic drop in all air travel," he said. "We've seen a major uptick in the number of international clearances, especially toward the second half of this year."

As a general aviation airport, DuPage pays for an on-site customs agent. The airport charges user fees per plane to help recoup the cost. Before it began offering the service in the late 1990s, planes had to land at other nearby airports for screenings.

DuPage Airport Authority board members, West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda and U.S. Customs officials are slated to gather today to cut the ribbon on the facility and give tours. There is a larger passenger lounge and more space for a customs officer to conduct clearance checks. Arriving passengers from outside the United States go through customs and "then they're in the main lobby of the flight center and can depart from there," Doles said.

"It's the most convenient for the flying public in Chicagoland utilizing this facility, both for our based and non-based customers," he said. "We have international clearances that come from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe, and the majority of those are business, corporate travel."

Also on its radar? The airport is looking to welcome international golfers and corporate sponsors when nearby Medinah Country Club hosts the 2026 Presidents Cup.

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