Willard's passenger numbers soar 12 percent in 2017

Willard's passenger numbers soar 12 percent in 2017

SAVOY — After adding an airline and more flights in 2017, the University of Illinois saw the number of passengers flying out of Willard Airport increase 12 percent.

For the first time in 10 years, the number of departing passengers topped 100,000, said Gene Cossey, the airport's executive director.

"2017 was a great year," he said about last year's 104,596 passengers. "We're excited about the performance we're seeing both on American and United."

Last June, United Airlines began three daily flights between Willard and Chicago O'Hare International Airport with a combined 150 daily seats.

And in November, American Airlines added a second afternoon flight to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and maintained its six daily flights to O'Hare.

In the past, it had reduced those flights to five during the winter.

Between the two additions, Willard now has 550 departing seats a day, up from 300 at the beginning of the year.

Cossey thanked the community for considering Willard when flying out of Champaign-Urbana and said he's continuing to pursue new airlines and destinations.

"All the airlines, when talking to us, they're looking to expand their networks," he said. "There's still viable markets for us. I don't know if it will be this year or the next, but I do anticipate some growth in 2018 or 2019."

Willard Airport last departures above 100,000 in 2007, when 108,667 people flew out of Willard.

Until the recession hit, Willard used to regularly see that many.

From 2002 through 2007, more than 100,000 people flew out of Willard five of the six years, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

"During the recession, when not only was the economy doing horrible, but several airlines failed or went out of business, that's when our numbers dipped, and our recent efforts are what's really been helping to recover those," Cossey said.

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Gennadius wrote on February 07, 2018 at 12:02 am

Very good news. The increase for scheduled service is probably some percentage points higher as well, and this was only for half a year or less, since United only started service in June, and American didn't add their extra flights until late in the year.

Definitely validates the thinking that some leakage was due to a lack of available seats. Hopefully the good start continues on into this year, and we'll see some additional frequencies and destinations.