SAVOY — As air travel gradually ramps back up again, Willard Airport will likely have more flights available next month.
Business at the airport owned by the University of Illinois hit a pandemic low in late March and early April, Executive Director Tim Bannon said.
More travelers have begun flying again, he said, but not at the pre-pandemic level.
“We do have quite a few travelers throughout the terminal,” Bannon said Friday. “But we’re nowhere near back to normal.”
Willard has been down to just three inbound and three outbound flights a day, one pair to each destination — Chicago O’Hare, Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas/Fort Worth.
Barring flight schedule changes, American Airlines should be back up to eight inbound and eight outbound flights a day in the second week of July between Willard and the three destinations. That will include five roundtrips to Chicago, two to Dallas/Fort Worth and one to Charlotte, Bannon said.
He cautioned that schedules can change these days, so travelers are advised to check on their flight times before and after they book so they don’t make a trip to the airport for nothing.
“We just want everyone to know we’re still in some volatile times” he said.
Willard Airport has been able to maintain its full staff, but it’s been hit hard financially from declines in air travel and related income losses in airport fees, car rentals and parking, Bannon said.
The airport has received a $1.83 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to help subsidize the losses, and that should hopefully help stabilize airport operations in the year ahead, he said.
Improvement projects that were already funded have been going forward, he said. Two airfield projects are underway, and Airport Road has been resurfaced.
If you plan to fly, you’ll find signs throughout the airport reminding you to maintain social distances.
You’ll also be expected to mask up. The airport has some masks for travelers who need them, but most travelers bring their own, Bannon said.
“The airports and airlines are doing everything within their control to make things safe for passengers,” he said.
American Airlines announced a stronger policy for requiring face coverings on June 15.
“American already enforces this policy at the gate and will deny boarding to customers who don’t comply,” the airline said. “American now may deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering.”
There are exemptions for young children and those who can’t wear a mask due to medical conditions, and the policy also doesn’t apply to travelers while they’re eating or drinking.
MTD ridership down 70 percent
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District continues to run at full-service level, and, for now, the rides continue to be no-charge. For safety’s sake, bus operators still aren’t collecting fares from passengers, according to MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt.
Ridership is down 70 percent, he said, “but we’re asking people not to ride unless they have to.”
Gnadt said the MTD isn’t planning to implement any major service changes with the return of UI students in August, but it does plan one change that won’t, effectively, make a difference until fares start being collected again.
In the past, the MTD hasn’t collected fares for stops at certain points on high-volume campus routes, to reduce boarding times and keep those buses moving.
But some of those “I-Stop” points overlap community route stops, which has made it confusing for passengers and caused some tension between passengers and bus operators, Gnadt said.
So in the future, fares won’t be collected on those overlapping stops.
“Now we’ll forego revenue for the sake of simplicity,” Gnadt said.
That will mean a loss of about $17,000 a year in fares, but MTD officials decided it’s a worthwhile move, Gnadt said.
Fares typically account for about 25 percent of the MTD’s revenue. Taking all sources of revenue into account, the total was down 18 percent in May compared to the previous May, Gnadt said.
As students return, Gnadt said he expects to see a ridership rebound, though it’s unlikely all students will feel comfortable getting back on buses.