Mt. Vernon Outland Airport – Jefferson County, Illinois

August 30, 2023
Mt. Vernon Outland Airport - Jefferson County, Illinois

Mt. Vernon Outland Airport

Soaring high fueled by opportunity


A thriving hub for general aviation and future growth, Mount Vernon Outland Airport is hitting new altitudes

It is nothing less than impressive what Mt. Vernon Outland Airport (MVN) has accomplished on the heels of a global pandemic that saw the aviation industry come to a screeching halt just a year and a half ago. It is safe to say that it is full speed ahead for this vital general aviation hub serving Jefferson County and neighboring areas.

With 25,800 aircraft operations in 2022 and a substantial economic impact of $40,200,000 annually, the airport’s 1,100-acre facility, encompassing 2,555,469 square feet of asphalt and concrete, has earned four Illinois Airport of the Year awards and is a vital resource in the region.

Mount Vernon Outland Airport’s Commitment to Safety and Future Growth

Airport Director Chris Collins shares, “We are an airport that’s blessed with a lot of infrastructure. It came to be that way because the airport had a commercial service carrier up until 1999 when our Essential Air Service grant subsidy was pulled from us.”

The proximity to St. Louis and Evansville, along with easy access to major interstates provides convenient options for commercial air travel, limiting the likelihood of having another commercial carrier at MVN, but as an aviation enthusiast, Collins says he is following the development of new technologies which could be a game changer.

“We still maintain our Part 139 air carrier certificate here, for the hopes of someday a carrier reemerging,” he maintains. “I’m watching that technology develop, seeing companies like Cape Air put deposits on nine-seat aircraft. That keeps my hopes up that maybe someday we could see a service provider like that.”

As a 14 CFR Part 139 airport, Mount Vernon Outland Airport adheres to the same high standards and regulations as airports with commercial carriers and maintains rigorous safety protocols, including two daily inspections, 12-foot perimeter fencing surrounding the facility, and 24/7 Air Rescue firefighting coverage.

The decision to hold on to this certification took careful consideration, weighing the benefits of being ready for future opportunities and adhering to intense safety standards. “So, we’ve made the decision that we’re keeping it, and we’re going to continue to maintain it for both of those reasons,” Collins asserts.

Mt. Vernon Outland Airport - Jefferson County, IllinoisDriving Innovation at MVN Airport’s Innovation Park

SRT Aviation, MVN’s FBO, has been in business for 16 and a half years. Founded by experienced airframe powerplant mechanics, the company is one of the few FAA-certified repair stations in the region, making them a trusted choice for aircraft owners.

Collins, a pilot himself, values the peace of mind of having his aircraft serviced by SRT Aviation, knowing it has undergone thorough inspections and received the highest level of certification. The airport is also home to Air Evac Lifeteam 11, a visual flight rules-only base, which has been operating at MVN since 2011. They are among the top five in the US, conducting four to five flights daily. Air Evac 172 is a more recent addition, operating as an instrument flight rules base.

Equipped with an Airbus EC 130, a larger twin-engine helicopter capable of flying in nearly all weather conditions, Air Evac 172 serves destinations like Indianapolis, Louisville, and Memphis, covering longer distances for critical medical transportation.

“Currently we are working on combining those two bases,” Collins recounts. “We’re calling it Joint Base Jefferson. We will be building a facility that will house both crews and helicopters. That’s going to be one of our tenants in our Innovation Park, a business development area on the southwestern side of the airport.”

Currently, the park houses Air Evac 172 and an aircraft sales company. The remainder of the park will primarily attract aviation-related businesses, given its location on the flight line. However, Collins points out that there are also opportunities for businesses not directly tied to aviation in an off-flight line area within the park.

“In Innovation Park West, we can build to suit. If you can imagine three 100 by 100 box hangers with flightline access, that’s what’s available. Innovation Park East is not as restricted because it’s an area that is housing a soybean field at the moment. We could build to what the customer wants.”

The airport collaborates with partners like the Greater Regional Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to offer grant opportunities for potential tenants, such as EDA grants and Community Development Block Grants.

Upgrading for the Future

Along with recruitment to the Innovative Park, the airport is busy with upgrades to its facilities, including changing taxiways and the crosswind runway to LED lighting and updating the lighting on the large runway.

“The bottom line is we will have state-of-the-art lighting on the airfield,” says Collins.

Through a program called Rebuild Illinois, MVN received a $1 million grant to improve all of its parking lots and entry roads. Collins admits, “It’s huge for us because our parking lot at our main terminal was built in 1975 and those pavements date back to that vintage. So, we’re very excited to get those state funds.”

On the subject of upgrades to hangar space, he quips, “All airports will tell you yes on that one,” acknowledging that the situation regarding hangar availability is cyclical. Over the years, the number of open Tee hangars has varied at MVN, due to factors such as aging tenants, changes in aviation interest, and aircraft ownership turnover. Currently, there are four openings, but the status can change rapidly, depending on demand and other circumstances.

“It’s very costly to build one at the moment, and right now, we don’t need it,” he relays. “But it’s nice to have that building for the itinerant aircraft that comes in, the Gulf Stream or something that needs to be put in at night. So, we should always be looking to have another building and another space ready for a sudden need like that.”

A Scenic and Ideal Location

In terms of location, the airport benefits from its strategic position at the intersection of interstates 57 and 64, making it easily accessible to major markets like Memphis, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Chicago.

The airport is also well-connected with five class one railroads running through Jefferson County, attracting industries like Manner Polymers, which chose the area for its state-of-the-art facility due to the rail infrastructure.

“Mount Vernon, the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation, the state of Illinois, the governor, our mayor, everybody worked together to launch that industry here,” describes Collins. “My part of it was shaking a hand on the ramp and keeping the runway open and safe.”

The airport’s proximity to picturesque amenities such as Rend Lake and Carlisle Lake offers recreational opportunities such as fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. Additionally, the area boasts natural beauty, including attractions like Shawnee National Forest, Cave-In-Rock State Park, and Garden of the Gods, which make it appealing for tourism.

Mt. Vernon Outland Airport - Jefferson County, IllinoisEmpowering Future Pilots and Enhancing the Aviation Community

Taking a progressive approach to aviation training, MVN has established its aviation programs. They currently have four rental aircraft, two Cessna Skyhawks, and two Aeroprakt A22 Light Sport airplanes. The airport employs a full-time certified flight instructor, Jay Grafton, who serves as the Aviation Programs Director.

With 21 students, MVN’s aim to cover Grafton’s salary by achieving a certain percentage of revenue from flight and ground instruction fees has been a huge success. The airport’s goal is to offset the instructor’s salary with the economic impact generated by students who become pilots and contribute to the aviation community by purchasing aircraft, renting hangars, buying fuel, and performing annual maintenance.

MVN has also initiated a youth in Aviation Club and employs additional part-time flight instructors to cater to local demand. The airport proudly showcases the achievements of its students with a large TV screen in the lobby displaying flight solos and their Facebook page sharing photos and certificates to celebrate their progress.

“We’re doing what we can locally,” Collins remarks. “It would be great if we could bring a Lift Academy or something like that here, where we could work with an airline company for a pipeline. I would love that.”

A Hub of Hospitality

The airport’s popular restaurant, Bonnie Cafe, is another success story. Since its establishment four years ago Brian and Melissa Hubbard, the cafe’s owners, have been excellent partners for the airport.

Collins elaborates, “It’s become the town’s gathering spot. An airport restaurant in a place like this is a difficult thing to do without the town supporting it. This town supports this one. They have 100,000 customers annually.” Bonnie Cafe’s reputation for excellent food and friendly service has even attracted unexpected guests, such as a Coast Guard Reconnaissance Search and Rescue plane’s crew, who stopped by for dinner during their cross-country flight.

Future goals for Mount Vernon Outland Airport include the development of a partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a military contract field.

“I want to do with the military what we’re doing with the corporate, leveraging the location, the facilities, the infrastructure, the service philosophy, the restaurant,” Collins emphasizes.

Alongside pursuing the DLA contract, the airport will continue its effective aviation training programs to prepare individuals for future enterprises.

“You don’t have to go to a top aviation facility to get in the cockpit of an airliner or a military airplane. There are all kinds of pathways to it. You just have to find someone to help you get there. And I want to be that somebody to help them get there,” he concludes.

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Mt. Vernon Outland Airport

What: A general aviation airport with 14 CFR Part 139 certification

Where: Jefferson County, Illinois



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Bonnie Cafe –

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