Consultant: Willard might be better off without UI
SAVOY — Willard Airport may have a better shot at success if it's governed by something other than the University of Illinois, an airport consultant says.
Possible alternatives include creating an airport authority or making the airport a department of city or county government, said Jack Penning of the Sixel Consulting Group.
Another option is putting Willard under the management of a private company, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District or the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, he said.
In any event, "the future of this airport is murky" unless there's additional investment, Penning told about 230 people at the Champaign County Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting Tuesday.
Penning said the university covered a $440,000 operating loss at the airport this year and has subsidized similar losses "the last decade or so."
But the university isn't keen on continuing the status quo.
"Running airports is not our core competence," UI Associate Vice Chancellor Bill Adams said in an interview done for Penning's report. "Our intent is to get out of the business of operating an airport."
Penning suggested several places Willard might look for additional revenue, among them:
— A wind turbine tax that might produce $200,000 to $300,000 a year.
— A 1 percent hotel-motel tax that might generate $420,000 a year.
— A property tax that might generate $3.6 million a year for Champaign County. A similar tax in McLean County has generated $3.3 million a year for Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington.
Penning said the Bloomington airport enjoys great cost advantages over Willard, thanks partly to property taxes that support its airport authority.
Shifting governance of Willard to another entity could help lower the airport's operating costs and allow for more community input into its operations, he said.
But making a change in Willard's governance could require changes in state law, he added. Under current law, the UI wouldn't be allowed to give up ownership of airport property, according to his study.
Penning said roughly one-third of the passengers flying in and out of Willard are associated with the university.