Changes ready for takeoff at Willard

Changes ready for takeoff at Willard

CHAMPAIGN — Proposed changes for Willard Airport in Savoy are about to take flight.

The University of Illinois has issued a request for proposals for operational management of the UI-owned airport, Associate Chancellor Michael DeLorenzo said Wednesday. The university hopes to get response from vendors by June 16.

Meanwhile, the university plans to roll out its new "Fly Champaign-Urbana" marketing campaign for the airport in late July or early August, prior to the start of the fall semester, he added.

Speaking to the Champaign County Economic Development Corp. board Wednesday, DeLorenzo also said:

— In the hunt for new air service destinations, Charlotte, N.C., might be the most likely East Coast candidate. American Airlines has hinted it may consider one airport in central Illinois for service to Charlotte, which has been a hub for American acquisition US Airways. New York and Washington are considered "unlikely" destinations for Willard, but Miami is a possibility.

— The UI has talked with another major carrier, United Airlines, about possible service. United has indicated service to Washington — Willard's most desired destination — is unlikely, but Newark, N.J., is a possibility.

— The other major air carriers, Southwest and Delta, are unlikely to extend service to Champaign-Urbana. Southwest has largely pulled out of regional airports, and Delta isn't going into regional airports it doesn't already serve. The UI is talking with smaller airlines, such as Allegiant, about other possibilities, including less-than-daily service to Florida.

— The UI was prepared to put as much as $1.6 million on the table as an incentive for an airline to provide East Coast service for a year, in the event the airline doesn't make money on that route. But other communities have offered even larger incentives — $2 million and even $3 million — and "airlines are not biting."

— The largest "leakage" of air travelers from this region — particularly from areas east of Champaign-Urbana — is to the Indianapolis airport. The next largest leakages are to O'Hare and Midway airports in Chicago and then to Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington.

— The UI is considering building a permanent rental-car service facility at Willard, costing $600,000 to $1 million. If that route is taken, the UI would have to foot the cost of construction, with the hope of recouping that through a charge on rental car fees. The service facility would clean rental cars upon return.

— The university has long been trying to secure Federal Aviation Administration money for a new $10 million air traffic control tower at Willard. But going forward, the FAA is planning to put more money into satellite-based and airplane-to-airplane digital communication systems, reducing the need for controller-provided guidance via radio. Airport Manager Steve Wanzek said there will still be a need for ground-based communications systems, but money is expected to be tighter for tower upgrades. Regional jets that currently serve Willard aren't equipped for the new communications systems, but a new generation of regional jets will be.

— The UI is concerned that Flightstar Corp.'s aircraft maintenance hangars at Willard may not be large enough to service the new generation of regional jets. Current 50-seat regional jets are expected to be replaced by 70-seat, fuel-efficient jets over the next four years. But the tail on those is too tall for existing hangars. Flightstar's capability for overnight aircraft maintenance is a "crucial amenity" at Willard that the university wants to preserve.

— U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, is scheduled to visit Willard Airport at 10:30 a.m. May 28 to hear from Flightstar officials, companies whose employees travel by air and others with interest in the airport, as part of the FAA reauthorization process. Davis serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation.

— The university continues to believe that establishing an airport authority for Willard is a "great idea" and is moving in that direction. But now is "not the right time to begin talking about the tax base" for such an authority. An airport task force is looking not just at property taxes, but also at other mechanisms to provide funding for an authority.

When Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing asked about the possibility of raising the passenger facility fee at Willard, DeLorenzo said airlines are likely to lobby against an increase.

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on May 21, 2015 at 11:05 am
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Gosh, there are so many ideas proposed here. What are the odds that all of them would be awful?

 

$1 million car rental facility? Awful idea. (Of course it would be over budget, too.)

Revamping a tower to fully exploit 1970's technology? Even worse. There's a great documentary on the crash of PSA Flight 182. You can watch it on YouTube. Please, let's allow the FAA and technology to win this argument.

"Airlines not biting?" Of course they aren't. They understand the market. It's nice to know that some parties to this conversastion are concerned with economic realities.

Laurel Prussing finding a new way to tax people? Well, expected I suppose.

tarlos25 wrote on May 21, 2015 at 6:05 pm

You want more people to fly through Willard.  Here are some things to consider:

Airport security here is FAST!  That is a huge benefit.  The only downside I see is that the pre-check passengers mess it up.  One pre-check passenger comes up, everyone else has to come to a complete halt until they're through.  Open a second screening area.  You'll need it anyway if there's more traffic coming through.

More food options.  Vending machines just won't cut it when you've got more travelers.

This is a chicken and egg problem, but we need more traffic, more flights and larger planes.  Being forced to check my carry-on luggage is insulting.  I keep a carry-on specifically so that some of my luggage is always under my control.  As traffic increases, we can get larger planes and more flights.  Which will increase traffic.  Unfortunately, one won't happen without the other.

Rental car facility improvements would be very nice.  The current stock is very limited.

Get costs lower.  For my most recent flight (international), flying from O'Hare cost approximately HALF of flying from Willard.  I'll take a ground shuttle to O'Hare for $40 and save $2,000.  Doesn't take that much extra time either.  Even for a domestic flight, it's more expensive to fly out of Champaign.

Finally, why do people come here?  For many UI students, every penny matters.  As long as flying to another airport and taking ground transportation here is more economical, you'll lose a significant number of people to that.  Business travelers are generally going to fall into one of two categories.  As cheap as possible, or executive level.  For the first, consider them the same as students.  For the second, we need larger planes that can accomodate different classes of service.  Otherwise, flying into Willard forces them into coach, and they can do better.

jpsm70 wrote on May 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm

I travel for work. Most of the times on a last minute booking. Here is my problem. Sometimes there are no seats. That means BMI or ORD. please get more flights. Thank you

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