SAVOY — If you want to fly to Florida via Vision Airlines from Willard Airport, your window of opportunity is a narrow one: Dec. 19 to Jan. 6.
After that, the airline has canceled all flights, according to the University of Illinois, which manages the Savoy airport and received confirmation from the company that service will end after Jan. 6.
"It's unfortunate. Obviously we're disappointed. We'll look at any options we have to improve service" by exploring additional destinations and carriers, said Bruce Walden, director of real estate services at the UI.
Walden said he spoke with Vision's director of sales and marketing, Clay Meek, and Meek "indicated that due to unforeseen circumstances the aircraft serving these communities (Savoy and Louisville, Ky.) would not be available after Jan. 6."
Earlier this month, Vision began refunding tickets on canceled flights, according to Walden.
Vision Airlines, based in Atlanta, announced in October that it would make twice-weekly flights from Willard to Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda, Fla. Punta Gorda is about 20 miles north of Fort Myers.
At the time of the announcement the company said flights, on 150-seat Boeing 737s, would begin Dec. 19 and be available on Mondays and Fridays through March 31, 2012, with several different prices available, ranging from $99 to $199.
Calls to the airline were not returned.
Per the UI's agreement with Vision, the university helped pay for some advertising and marketing expenses related to the new service. Walden estimated that amount at about $15,000. The UI also waived some fees, such as counter fees, but that amount is not expected to add up to much, Walden said, because of the short time the airline is expected to serve Willard.
Previous agreements with carriers have been quite substantial. In 2004 the university and other community organizations offered Delta a $1.35 million revenue guarantee for the airline's first two years serving Willard.
Over the last year university staff has been busy contacting several different carriers that might be interested in offering service in and out of Willard, Walden said.
"We've had discussions with numerous airlines that serve these types of markets, but none are expanding at this time," he said.
"It's disappointing. As you know, the airline industry is a pretty difficult business to be in. There's pressure on almost every carrier," said Seamus Reilly, a member of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation's airport committee, referring to AirTran's departure from the Central Illinois Regional Airport at Bloomington-Normal next year.
The economic development corporation commissioned a study earlier this year to review airport operations and explore different governance options for Willard.
One of the key points that came out of the consultant's report, Reilly said, was the importance of having air service in the community, not necessarily for the occasional leisure traveler but for business travelers who fly daily or even weekly from central Illinois.
"Who knows what the future holds? It's an incredibly competitive market. But I do think our region can support air service," Reilly said.
This story appeared in print on Dec. 11.