Willard's master-plan discussions branch off into outlets, TVs

Willard's master-plan discussions branch off into outlets, TVs

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CHAMPAIGN — The meeting was meant to be a chance for officials to discuss Willard Airport's new master plan, a requirement from the Federal Aviation Administration.

While that was accomplished, the event became a discussion on how to improve the customer experience, from adding electrical outlets in the terminal to changing the channel on terminal TVs from CNN.

"I thought it went really well," said Gene Cossey, the airport's executive director. "When I saw the group, I saw that it would go off from the main topic of the master plan, but we're open to having discussion about everything."

He said more electrical outlets have recently been added, but that building codes make adding them complicated.

"We actually do have a lot more outlets now. We put outlets all along the back side of Einstein (Bagels), so there's like six of them now, and we are working on trying to figure out how to wire some in the rest of the terminal," Cossey said.

And he said he doesn't know who keeps changing the channel on the terminal TVs.

"I am going to have to put cameras out there to focus on whoever is changing channels because we're trying to keep those channels as balanced as possible. Because if it's all CNN, I get complaints. If it's all Fox News, I get complaints," Cossey said. "We've told people to leave at least two of them on The Weather Channel, and I go out there, and they're changed."

About 20 people attended the meeting, including frequent flyers from local businesses and the University of Illinois, local business and tourism officials and residents who live near the airport.

The FAA requires airports to regularly update their master plan, something Willard hasn't done since 1985, Cossey said.

It includes new maps, aerial imagery, land-use and airport layout plans, along with a 20-year forecast, facility requirements and implementation plan.

The forecast, which includes a study of which airports Willard "leaks" passengers to, is almost complete, Cossey said.

Like the one completed in 2014, Cossey said this leakage study will show that Willard doesn't lose many passengers to Bloomington's Central Illinois Regional Airport, a common misconception.

"The leakage that we have to Bloomington goes up and down just a little bit, and in this latest study, it's gone up just a little bit, but it's still just a very low percentage," Cossey said. "You can look at what we leak, and it has absolutely nothing to do with parking. It has to do with availability of flights, and one of the things they have available that we're still working on, that we don't have yet, is Allegiant, and they also have Delta."

He also said there's plenty of demand for new flights and airlines at Willard.

"One thing we have seen in our new leakage study is overall passenger demand growth for this region has grown by over 100 percent," Cossey said. "Unfortunately, with just American and just United, even with the growth we have, we don't have enough to meet that capacity and demand. People have to go somewhere else. There's a million people a year who want to fly in and out of our area, and we only have about 300,000 seats."

The master plan isn't expected to make recommendations to change the size of the airfield but could include some expansions to the terminal, especially since it was built for pre-9/11 security standards.

"We don't anticipate airfield expansion being a large component of this. ... However, buildings, terminals, things like that, absolutely could be looked at as potential expansion items," said Craig Louden, a project manager with consulting firm Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, which is handling the master plan update.

As the airport pursues airlines like Allegiant, which focuses on leisure travel to destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando, the terminal could face bottlenecks because Allegiant likes to fly multiple flights one after another.

"This is not necessarily impossible — it's still a little ways down the road, but it's not impossible — (that) Allegiant comes in and says, 'Hey, since we're going to come in anyway, we're going to do three flights every Thursday and Sunday, and we're going to put them back-to-back,' and then all of the sudden, I have to figure out how to put 450 people in the terminal. That's where it's going to be difficult," Cossey said. "(If) American puts in, say, three flights to Charlotte, spreading them out over the rest of the day, we've got the capacity for that."

The airport has already started working on the master plan and hopes to complete it by the end of 2019.

The plan will cost about $1.3 million to create, Cossey said, with the FAA picking up 90 percent of that, and the state and airport splitting the rest.

"The FAA looks at funding the airport from the attitude of funding what they would consider a public good or a common good. They would look at funding those things that would be beneficial to everyone. That's because the money that they fund it from comes from everyone. It comes from aviation fuel taxes and from surcharges on your aviation ticket," Cossey said. "What we do with the master plan is we try to identify those things that the FAA will fund and that we can get public funding on that capitalize and leverage that money as much as possible."

The airport created a website at cmimasterplan.com for the public to follow the process.