Willard Airport gets $500,000 government grant to explore service to D.C.
SAVOY — Willard Airport in Savoy and Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington are working separately to get air service to the Washington, D.C., area.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $500,000 to each of them to help further those efforts.
The $500,000 for Willard Airport is specifically for revenue guarantees and marketing support for new air service to Washington Dulles International Airport, with United Airlines or United Express the most likely carrier.
The Bloomington airport has more leeway for use of its $500,000. That money is targeted for launching new air service to either Washington or New York, according to a release from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office.
Bruce Walden, whose work at the University of Illinois includes oversight of Willard Airport, said there are "a couple of likely airlines" to provide service to Dulles, and United is one of them.
Walden said service to the nation's capital is "the number-one request we get from the university" and a recent study indicated service to Dulles "had a chance of success for the long term."
One reason Dulles was chosen over closer-in Reagan National Airport was that Dulles has many international flights, and "one-quarter of those flying out of Willard are international" travelers, Walden said.
According to the airport's grant application, "Washington has available capacity for additional flights, and it ranks as Champaign-Urbana's sixth-largest origin and destination passenger market, with an average of 51 local passengers per day each way."
The grant came from the Transportation Department's Small Community Air Service Development Program, which helps "small, underserved airports" improve their air service, according to Durbin's release.
The federal grant to Willard requires a local match of $66,667, to be raised from both public and private sources.
Champaign-Urbana was one of 33 communities across the country that were awarded a total of $13.9 million Tuesday.
In addition to the Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington airports, Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport got $250,000 for ground handling and a marketing program to support new low-cost air service to Florida; Las Vegas; Phoenix; or Myrtle Beach, S.C.
In applying for the grant, Willard initially sought $600,000 from the federal government. That would have been matched locally with $80,000 in cash and $345,000 in in-kind contributions from the airport — namely the waiver of landing fees, jet-bridge fees and rents.
Under the airport's proposal, about $630,000 of the cash would be used for airline revenue guarantees, while $50,000 would be used for marketing and advertising.
In its application, Willard proposed United offer two flights daily between Champaign-Urbana and Dulles — one in each direction — on a 50-passenger Embraer ERJ145.
The flight would take 1 hour and 20 minutes, and Willard suggested 6:15 a.m. and 1 p.m. departures from Champaign-Urbana and 11:45 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. departures from Dulles.
"Once the award is announced, the University of Illinois Willard Airport will conduct airline meetings to secure United Express service," the application stated, adding service likely couldn't begin until at least June 2013.
Following the grant announcement, the airport's first three steps would be:
— Executing the grant agreement with the Department of Transportation.
— Negotiating with United for service.
— Signing the minimum revenue guarantee agreement with the airline.
If Willard can't get United or United Express service to Dulles within a year, the airport said it would like to use the grant money for other service to the East Coast, namely:
— Service to Reagan National; Philadelphia; or Charlotte, N.C., on US Airways Express.
— Service to Atlanta or Detroit on Delta.
— Service to Cleveland on United Express.
Willard Airport currently has one commercial airline, American Eagle, providing several flights daily to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and one flight daily to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.