Willard Airport overview

Willard Airport is shown from above in July 2014 in Savoy.

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SAVOY — If the University of Illinois Willard Airport added two daily flights to and from Washington, D.C., it could draw about 12,000 more visitors to Champaign County annually, according to a new economic impact study.

And that kind of new service could lead, directly or indirectly, to 89 new jobs and add $8.3 million to the local economy, the study said.

“New air service at the University of Illinois Willard Airport would have a measurable positive economic impact on the county,” concludes the report written by Volaire Aviation Consulting.

The report does not say that service between Willard and Dulles International Airport is on the way. It simply says that if it was, the service would be “provided by a different airline than American” and would include “an overnighting aircraft, a morning originating flight, a midday arrival and departure as well as an evening return from Dulles.”

The report, published Wednesday by the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., was sponsored by EDC, the airport, the city of Champaign, Visit Champaign County, Parkland College, Frasca International, the UI Research Park, Flightstar and the Champaign County Association of Realtors.

Local officials plan to share more today about the economic impact study, the first since 2016.

According to the study, despite a drop in total seats available last year, Willard is projected to increase the amount of passengers in 2019 by 1.7 percent to 212,000. It reports that, since 2012, passenger traffic has increased 34 percent.

“The increases in traffic since 2012 have been driven by organic market growth, the stimulation of the brief United Airlines service and the addition of service to the third hub, Charlotte,” the study said.

In mid-2017, United added flights to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, but canceled service in September 2018.

And in December 2018, American added flights to Charlotte, joining its existing service to Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Between commercial, military and private flights, the airport handled 125 “flight operations” a day in 2018, according to the report. About 75 aircraft are based at Willard.

Passenger planes not associated with major airlines, such as charter flights, bring an estimated 40 people to the county each day, the report said.

It estimates that the airport contributes $99.75 million to the local economy annually and currently supports the equivalent of 751 full-time jobs.

In comparison, the size of the Champaign County economy is estimated at $11.8 billion annually, and it employs about 128,000 people, according to the report.

Employees now supported by Willard include 121 from the airline service, 190 from visitor spending and 439 from non-airline operations, such as from private flights, Flightstar, Parkland College’s aviation program and the Federal Aviation Administration tower.

And of the roughly 751 full-time jobs, 432 are directly supported and 319 are supported by the indirect or induced effect of the airport, the study said.

Willard Airport brings in an estimated $2.5 million in revenue annually, with 30 percent coming from parking fees, according to the study. Last year, Willard increased its daily parking rate from $5 to $7.

The report also notes the “intangible economic and social value” of the airport, such as improvements to the real estate market, the possibility of leisure travel and the importance of Parkland’s flight training facility when there’s a national pilot shortage.

“Many of these intangible attributes defy easy conversion to economic impact numbers,” the report said. “However, they do add to the already significant economic impact and economic value of the University of Illinois Willard Airport to Champaign County and the surrounding region, as estimated in this report.”