UI aims to get Willard service to East Coast off ground
$500,000 grant to help land airline flying to D.C. , Philly, Atlanta, Detroit or elsewhere
CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois will work with selected airlines in the next month or so in hopes of arranging new service from Willard Airport to the East Coast, a UI official said.
Last August, the airport received a $500,000 grant to help arrange new air service, ostensibly to Washington Dulles International Airport on either United Airlines or United Express.
At the time, the airport mentioned other possibilities for service, including:
— Service to Cleveland on United Express.
— Service to Atlanta or Detroit on Delta.
— Service to Philadelphia, Charlotte, N.C., or Reagan National Airport in Washington on US Airways Express.
On Wednesday, Bruce Walden, whose work at the UI includes oversight of the airport, said Atlanta is among the East Coast destinations being considered. He mentioned no others by name.
"I think we have an opportunity now with the changes going on, and I'm optimistic we'll get something done," he told the Champaign County Economic Development Corp.'s board of directors Wednesday.
The grant, from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Small Community Air Service Development Program, was specifically for revenue guarantees and marketing support for new air service.
Walden said he could use letters of support from the private sector to help make the case for new air service.
Willard Airport is currently served by American Eagle, which has several flights a day between Willard and Chicago's O'Hare and one flight daily between Willard and Dallas-Fort Worth.
It's unclear how, if at all, that service will be affected if the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways goes through. American Eagle is an American Airlines subsidiary.
In other business Wednesday, the economic development group considered the concept of recognizing a major local business every three months using newspaper, radio, TV, social media, promotional videos and the EDC website.
The program would focus on businesses with 100 or more employees that get at least 50 percent of their revenue from outside Champaign County, said Matt Wavering, who outlined the proposal.
Wavering estimated the annual cost of the recognition program at $13,736 and suggested that four business sponsors be found to underwrite the cost.
The board approved the concept, but asked for mock-ups and further investigation of sponsorships before proceeding.