Consultant: Willard might be better off without UI

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.

Comments embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

myattitude wrote on October 18, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I am sure this was all planned out ahead of time. By forcing the closing of Institute of Aviation, Willard airport can be removed from UI control and turned over to another group.

Sad the UI is so willing to kill off a training program and was unable to manage the airport to allow it to grow successfully. It shows the continued disintegration of UI due to the politics of the state.

sparkchaser1200 wrote on October 19, 2011 at 7:10 am

They have to close the school in order to get out of the airport business. The state passed a "law" giving the land to the university for the sole purpose of building a airport for education, flight and aircraft maintenance.

If not for this provision the UI would have got out of the airport business long ago.

Mike wrote on October 18, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Well, I do think that Willard would be better served to be a municipal airport and not part of our great University. Somehow hooking it into the MTD didn't sound like a bad plan (of course, remember that the U. of I. gives a healthy chunk of money to MTD to keep it running).

Every time I fly out of CMI to either O'Hare or Dallas the plane is full to the brim, so I still have a hard time understanding what the problem is. (I only fly a few times a year on business, of course).

I have a feeling that CMI might have a better chance competing as a "normal" airport as a private entity instead of a "these are our rules--take it or leave it" part of the University.

Would love it to stay open and be profitable. Beats the hell out of driving to BMI or IND or wherever.