Q: Where is Willard Airport looking at expanding to?
A: In discussions with Allegiant, Florida destinations Destin, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Punta Gorda and Fort Lauderdale have come up.
“And maybe even a Las Vegas route, which would be great,” said Tim Bannon, the executive director of the University of Illinois-owned airport.
“We’ve had some successful meetings with Allegiant. There’s no formal or firm commitment to come and serve our market. We’ve offered them a competitive incentive package, marketing pledge, rates and charges.”
He’s also been in discussions with a regional carrier called SkyWest about possible flights to Denver or Washington, D.C.
“We do have a high (amount) of travel to the east and to the west, so we think they’d be a great airline to fit right into our existing mix of flights,” Bannon said. “This company would likely be the airline that would serve us under a Small Community Air Service Development grant.”
The airport has applied for a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“There’s been about $37 million in applications, and $12 million will be awarded,” Bannon said. “So we have a pretty decent chance at landing one of those, and we have been a recipient in the past.”
According to an economic impact study released last month, a flight to and from Washington, D.C. could draw about 12,000 more visitors to Champaign County annually and lead to 89 new jobs in the area.
That study was not meant to imply Willard was about to land service to D.C., Bannon said.
“We’re really not,” he said.
“But it is true that the 2016 study looked at the Charlotte route,” said Bruce Knight, Champaign’s planning and development director.
“Yes, and that was added,” Bannon said. “So maybe that’s a good thing that it was in here.”
Willard currently offers flights to O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, and since December 2018, Charlotte, N.C.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, District 1 councilwoman Clarissa Nickerson Fourman asked, “What are the chances we can do Southwest airlines? If I want to fly Southwest, I’m driving wherever Southwest is.”
The chances aren’t good, Bannon said.
“It’s pretty unlikely,” he said. “Southwest generally serves population bases that are multiple sizes of ours, so we’re pretty low on their list of places to expand. They likely wouldn’t even accept a meeting request.”
But he said adding airlines and routes is “our number one priority.”
“That is a focus that is really the lifeblood of our airport,” Bannon said. “That is a constant focus that we put a lot of resources into, and we consistently meet with airlines on a regular basis to pitch the airport, share data and say, hey, we’re open for business and you should come fly at our airport. We have the demand for it.”