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SAVOY — A new customs facility for passengers on private international flights to Champaign-Urbana is under construction at Willard Airport in Savoy.

Work on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection General Aviation Facility started last month and is expected to be completed by early 2020.

Funded entirely by Flightstar, it will allow passengers to land directly at Willard without having to clear customs at another airport, officials said.

It will be used by Flightstar clients who charter the company’s planes or hire its pilots to fly their private aircraft — not passengers on commercial airlines, said airport Director Tim Bannon.

Willard currently offers only domestic flights. Passengers returning from Mexico, for example, go through customs in a connecting airport like Chicago or Dallas, said Willard spokeswoman Ashley Hipsher.

The customs office will primarily be used by corporate aviation clients — business travelers or companies that bring in international clients or recruit new employees overseas, officials said.

“It probably won’t get used super-frequently,” Bannon said, “but the time it is used is very, very important for our clients who use the airport. They want to have that capability, so they don’t have to stop at another airport” to go through customs, he said.

The customs facility will be open to other general aviation flights that use Willard as well, for a fee, Bannon said.

He hopes the customs facility will make the airport a more attractive destination for corporate and chartered flights.

Flightstar President Bill Giannetti said the facility is another step in the company’s push to improve the community airport.

“This facility will open new opportunities in the international aviation market while serving this area and its users,” he said in a statement.

Flightstar currently uses a similar customs office in Decatur for its international flights to Champaign-Urbana, stopping there before landing at Willard. But the company decided to close that office, which was also used for ADM corporate flights, and open a facility at Willard instead, Bannon said.

Flightstar is covering all costs, from construction to information technology equipment to the cost of one U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer to staff it, Bannon said.

The company, and any other general aviation flights that go through customs there, will also pay user fees each time they use it, he said.

These smaller customs operations are common at airports that don’t have enough international air traffic to justify a government-funded customs office but have a large business that generates international flights, Bannon said. They’re designed to be funded by the people using it instead of the federal government, he said.

Bannon said the cost is “not cheap” but deferred to Flightstar for details.

The Willard facility is going up next to a Flightstar hangar and the Willard Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting station, on the site of a former maintenance building that was demolished.

The 3,800-square-foot customs building has an office space, a processing room and a restroom, all designed to U.S. Customs and Border Protection standards that include access controls, cameras and special protections for information technology, Bannon said.

One other security feature: the toilet can’t be flushed from inside the bathroom. It’s flushed remotely, from another room, “so if you use it, a CPB Agent can come in and inspect to make sure you didn’t destroy any illegal substances or contraband,” he said.

The federal agency had to approve the designs and will review it again once construction is complete, Hipsher said.

Once it opens, only the customs officer staffing the facility will have keys to the building, Bannon said.

“We don’t have keys, neither does Flightstar. They control 100 percent of the building,” he said.

Flightstar also had to negotiate an agreement with USDA for handling any trash that comes in from outside the United States, so that it’s disposed of properly, Bannon said.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Bannon said. “It’s an interesting process.”

News-Gazette

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).