DES MOINES, Iowa — Airline travel is starting to bounce back following the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Iowa’s airports have received a special round of federal assistance to make that travel easier for the next generation.

The Iowa Department of Transportation received $100 million to modernize the state’s airports through American Rescue Plan funds; that money soon became the Iowa Commercial Aviation Infrastructure Fund, which will go towards renovating terminals, parking structures, and airplane hangars.

“It’s a real shot in the arm to aviation in commercial airports in the state of Iowa,” said Iowa DOT Aviation Director Tim McClung, who administers the fund.

The $100 million will be distributed among Iowa’s eight main airports:

  • Des Moines International Airport (DSM): $58.8 million
  • Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids (CID): $28.4 million
  • Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City (SUX): $3.15 million
  • Dubuque Regional Airport (DBQ): $2.78 million
  • Waterloo Regional Airport (ALO): $2.2 million
  • Fort Dodge Regional Airport (FOD): $1.59 million
  • Mason City Municipal Airport (MCW): $1.57 million
  • Southeast Iowa Regional Airport in Burlington (BRL): $1.57 million

The first $10 million of the infrastructure fund is distributed evenly among all eight airports, but the remaining $90 million is decided based on how many planes landed at each airport in 2019. For example, Des Moines International Airport is responsible for 64 percent of Iowa’s passenger air traffic, so it received 64 percent of the remaining $90 million available.

Source: Iowa Department of Transportation

McClung said this structure allows each airport to address its most pressing infrastructure needs.

“If you start thinking about all of the pinch points — curbside, the holding gates, and all the way out to the baggage claim — this should really make travelers want to use the Iowa airports,” McClung said.

The largest airport also has the largest project. Des Moines International Airport’s master plan details the proposal to eventually demolish its existing terminal and expand the number of gates from 13 to 22.

“The existing terminal is struggling already to accommodate the level of passenger traffic that we have,” said Des Moines International Airport executive director Kevin Foley. “More importantly, it’s struggling to accommodate the demand for aircraft parking.” 

The $58.8 million from the infrastructure fund will get the ball rolling on the project, but Foley said this is just one step in a long and pricey process.

“We’re looking at about $711 million to get the whole project completed,” Foley estimated. “We anticipate in order to get it completed, we’ll have to do it in phases. 1A we anticipate will start construction in 2023 with a majority of it in 2024.”

Foley hopes the financial boost will eventually attract two landmark routes to Des Moines.

“Seattle and San Francisco; those are the routes that were in heavy demand prior to the pandemic,” Foley said. “We want to remain competitive on ticket prices with those other airports so that those who live in Iowa can in fact fly out of Iowa’s airport without having to drive for a cheaper ticket price.” 

Both McClung and Foley are optimistic the infrastructure fund will create lasting benefits for Iowa’s air travel.

“We’re going to end up having some nice terminals in the state,” McClung said. “They’re set up for the future and they’re going to be impressive.”

“We’re going to keep moving forward at the pace funding becomes available and take this one step at a time until we get it completed,” said Foley.