Business Profile | Joe DePaulo

October 2013 View more

President and Manager, Bolingbrook’s Clow International Airport

Photo by Mike Hudson

As president and manager of Bolingbrook’s Clow International Airport, Joe DePaulo transformed what was once a small privately owned airport into one of the most widely used general aviation airports in Illinois. Naperville Magazine spoke with DePaulo about what fueled the redevelopment of the airport and his future plans for the airstrip.

What inspired your passion for aviation?

I got into the aviation world a bit different than most. I was a custom builder and land developer for over 30 years. As a developer, I had purchased the privately owned airport with an idea to develop it into a residential and commercial type property. Instead, I decided to redevelop the airport. Doing so, I felt I needed to understand the world of a pilot, so I bought a plane and started to learn. That challenge turned into my passion. I had to learn something I knew nothing about. Though it was bit backwards, as I bought an airport, then a plane, then achieved my pilots license, I came to enjoy the industry. Knowing that industry, I found that a restaurant on the airport grounds was a must. I built and ran Charlie’s Restaurant. It draws pilots from all over the Midwest. It is also a great place for families to watch planes while enjoying a great meal. It is located along the ramp so you can see all the planes taxi, takeoff, and land.

After six years, I was approached by other developers who wished to buy the land. The Village of Bolingbrook showed interest in preserving the airport, so they bought it. I then managed it for them, as I continue to do.

Trying to be a good neighbor in the community, the Illinois Aviation Museum was initiated. It continues to grow due to some great volunteers and community participation. We hold seminars, meetings, do restoration projects, etc. A few years ago, volunteers, along with high school students, built a plane that actually flew!

The aviation industry has been through some turbulent times during the past decade, from new security measures, and rising fuel costs, to the great recession. What has been your greatest challenge?

The economy is probably the overall issue. As the expendable income of individuals dwindles, prices of planes, fuel, and insurance all increase. The State and National economy also impacts the airport itself. Funding for airport related items is dwindling and harder to receive. It is a financial commitment to earn a pilot’s license. All of these things aren’t specific to us but is a national trend that the industry is trying to combat. That being said, I have seen an uptick in business use here. Also, the flight school located here, A&M Aviation, is one of the largest private flight schools in Illinois and it continues to be very successful in private pilot instruction for various aircraft including helicopter training. A&M has also trained many pilots for their commercial license. Many of those pilots are now flying for commercial airlines and corporations. Our location has helped us combat a lot of the issues that affect aviation as we continue to operate in the black.

You purchased the airport in 1998 when it was slated to close. Since then, it was purchased by the Village of Bolingbrook, renamed, and renovated. What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

I guess being involved both personally and with the Village of Bolingbrook in bringing a nearly closed farm field airport back to life and becoming an economic engine for the Village and surrounding community. With all of this we have maintained the friendly culture that exists here. There is a great sense of pride for this airport by everyone. The Village is a great supporter of the airport and I’ve learned a lot from them.

With more than 70,000 landings and takeoffs each year, Clow Airport is one of the most widely used general aviation airports in Illinois. Tell us about your plans for the future.

We have great plans. Not for any type of huge expansion, but for updating and increasing the airports capabilities. We hope to get the funding to replace the runway, the taxiway, and ramp. These improvements offer capabilities not just for pilots, but for future businesses that will increase its economic impact that benefits our communities. We have been working closely with the State and the FAA to achieve all of this.

Bolingbrook and Naperville residents are fortunate to have a part of aviation history right in their backyard. Tell us about the Illinois Aviation Museum.

The Museum is a 501C3 not for profit. It started as a grass roots operation with just a handful of individuals in 2004. It is amazing the amount of people and groups that visit. The Museums tag line is “Preserving the Past Ensuring the Future”. Our safety and informational seminars are widely attended. Our preservation committee is actively preserving historic aircraft. Our event committees host a variety of functions. I like the fact that we use the excitement of aviation, not just to promote the history of aviation, but to also promote the sciences. A student’s interest may not end up with aviation, but if it peaked some excitement about math, physics, or science, then I think the Museum has done a great service. And of course there is the Young Eagles Program. This is a program sponsored by another association located here at the airport, the EAA. The Museum hosts this association and their great program. Together, they have been able to offer free rides to Children, provide basic flight instruction, and promote aviation.

What do you enjoy the most about living in Naperville?

My past history was that of a builder and land developer. Knowing that my projects added to the growth, the quality, and a desirable community that I raised my family in, has been very satisfying. Living here gives us quick access to work, our daughters, and grandchildren. My wife and I continue to use the Riverwalk and the downtown area just as we remember doing back in the 70s!