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.

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urbana1234 wrote on March 14, 2013 at 9:03 am

Delta already run from BMI to Atlanta. The U of I will need to change a few things before I'd consider flying out of Willard again.

Orbiter wrote on March 14, 2013 at 10:03 am

Indeed, the choice to pursue ATL seems to be more a case of trying to match BMI. Same mentality as putting a Burger King across from every McDonalds.  It would be so much better for the community, though, to provide a different option. Such as PHL or EWR or BOS.  If the management really wants to compete with BMI, the answer is simple: free parking.  It *does* matter.

cretis16 wrote on March 14, 2013 at 11:03 am

What a complete waste of money. Bloomington knocked CMI out of the airline picture along time ago.....do a kayak search on fares.... I dont like paying a $200 extra just because I want to fly from CMI. Folks, you dropped the ball along time ago....it's too late to catch up.

jack straw wrote on March 14, 2013 at 10:03 am

Not trying to be a Debbie Downer here but, Cleveland?  Really?  Is that a joke?  

Urbana1234 is right about Delta and Bloomington.  From BMI you can already get to Atlanta and Detroit, which means you can get anywhere Delta goes, and get free parking.  And with State Farm and Country Insurance headquartered there, and a robust university and college system, that reality is not going to change.  Adding flights in Champaign is a loser for Delta because they'd only be competing with themselves.

Here's the problem I would like solved:  How do we hook up with Southwest?  Get me to Indy, Midway, or St. Louis cheap and without a car.  A round trip from Champaign to any one of those destinations will cost a tank of gas at around $70, plus $50-$100 in parking, plus 5-7 hours of drive time.  So what is that worth?  How can it be done? 

Orbiter wrote on March 14, 2013 at 10:03 am

jack straw, you can get to MDW from Champaign by either Amtrak or Megabus.  Presently Amtrak is unreliable because of the liklihood of hours' of delay on the tracks in the Chicago switchyard. 

BMI did have AirTran (now Southwest) until a few months ago when they pulled out. THAT was a big loss to the area.  Indy is not such a bad distance to go, except for their crazy out-of-the-way new terminal that adds 10 miles to the drive--and the lack of any competitive parking nearby. But at least you don't need to crawl down Cicero Ave. to get to IND as you do MDW.  I won't even consider ORD anymore because of the insulting highway fees/tolls that add $30 to the trip.

We must also consider the prospect of a new airport going in at Peotone, in the next decade. Will be closer to us, but certainly not very convenient for travelers going to downtown Chicago.  And I mourn the loss of prime agricultural land to such development.

Anyone remember when we had passenger service out of Decatur?  Nice little airport, free parking, etc.  Even though it only went to St. Louis at the end, it was still a nice option to get to an airport serviced by SWA.

Orbiter wrote on March 14, 2013 at 10:03 am

One further thing that CMI could do to attract better air service from the airlines is to improve it's local navigational systems!  Countless planes get diverted or canceled from landing because of their inability to find the landing strip during foggy weather. I was recently diverted to IND twice because of this. It is apparently a big problem at CMI, and surely is an impediment to bringing new service, and an inducement for current carriers to leave!

Danno wrote on March 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Upon touring the Control Tower, field V.O.R. and radar microwave systems, COM and Transponder facilities not that many years ago; I might assure you that they meet all FAA, FCC and, DOT requirements per licencing standards. I might inquire if your carrier/pilots were licensed/skilled for anything other than Visual Flight Rules and, not Instrument Flight Rules. Just sayin'...

wayward wrote on March 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Seems like service to RRI could be pretty useful for folks going from CU-DC.  You can catch the Metro from that airport right into town.

vcponsardin wrote on March 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm
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From what I understand New York is a pretty big city.  They must have an airport, right?  Perhaps a connection to New York might be an idea.  I dunno.  Maybe NY isn't that big after all...

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Maybe; cargo flights to Honduras, and back?

wayward wrote on March 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Maybe NY isn't that big after all...

Maybe not compared to Mexico City. :)

Lostinspace wrote on March 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Remember Ozark?

pattsi wrote on March 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Showing how long I have lived here--not only remember Ozark, but also Piedmont, direct flights to NYC and DC, respectively, and 5 different airlines serving CMI at the same time. How nice it would be if such history would be included in like kind articles.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Wasn't the Hippy Dippy Weatherman in the Ozark Airlines commercials George Carlin?

Danno wrote on March 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Many thoughtful comments. I do remember Ozark. I also remember Hippy Dippy Carlin; great stuff, huh?

One particularity and, I don't understand all of the legal ramifications, but, Willard is part of a Land Grant Institution. I'm sure it would take an Act of Some Kind of Congress to make any major changes.

sameeker wrote on March 15, 2013 at 5:03 am

A $500,000 grant to pay for this? It says that the grant pays for revenue gurantees, which is guranteed income for the airlines. In other words, more corporate welfare. The Federal government is as broke as the state of Illinois. They have got to stop handing out all of these grants.

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 15, 2013 at 8:03 am

It's part of the infrastructure remodeling that is ABSOLUTELY necessary. While you can certainly argue as to whether this is the RIGHT place to put infrastructure dollars, you cannot possibly argue that we don't need improved infrastructure.

sameeker wrote on March 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Infrastructure includes roads, bridges, power grids (which should be paid for by the utility companies), schools and such. It does not include profit gurantees for an airline.

PRGrad wrote on March 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Has anyone considered the impact of the FAA closing air traffic control towers? The "possible" list (http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/media/Facilities_Could_Be_Closed.pdf) includes BMI but not CMI. I think the final list is to be released this week.