Letter from the Executive Director

Despite the pandemic, it has been a very busy couple of years at Willard Airport. We’ve just completed a set of major projects designed to make your experience better and to ensure not only your comfort, but your safety.

Our terminal has a whole new look.  We’ve replaced all the signage, installed new carpet, and added more passenger amenities like water bottle fillers and charging stations.  New wayfinding makes it easy to locate whatever you need – and our branding now matches our parent – the University of Illinois.  When visitors land at Willard, they’ll know they’ve landed at the home of the Illini.

We also re-built one of our three runways, ensuring safe landings and takeoffs for decades to come.  The $12 million project was almost entirely funded by the federal and State governments – no local tax money was needed.

Right now, we’re getting ready to build a brand new rental car wash facility.  Our car rental companies currently service vehicles in an outdoor enclosure, making it difficult to ensure arriving passengers are assigned clean cars, especially in the cold months of winter.  The rental car companies, through a locally imposed customer facility charge, are paying for the new facility, which should be fully constructed and operational in late 2022.

Passengers are slowly returning.  Airlines are reporting passenger loads within approximately 25% of our pre-pandemic high.  In 2022, our capacity will continue to slowly increase.  We anticipate about 90% of our available seats to be restored by the end of the year, with flight options throughout each day.

We’re not done working for you.  We have in-person meetings scheduled with airline planners throughout the spring.  We continue to work for better flight options and more nonstop cities.

All we ask, is that when you fly, Fly Champaign-Urbana first.

Tim Bannon, AAE

Executive Director

University of Illinois – Willard Airport

 

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If you haven’t visited Willard Airport in a while, you’ll be met with a whole new look the next time you fly.  The Airport has invested more than $110,000 to make the in-terminal experience better.

It all starts with the terminal’s look and feel.  Terminal wayfinding signs were fully replaced for the first time in several decades.  The new signs align with our Fly Champaign-Urbana brand and the University of Illinois colors. The new, modern signs simplify navigating throughout the terminal with easy-to-read messaging.

 

 

The signs cost $19,174.  The Airport was able to pay for them with airport operating funds – money that comes from things like airline rent payments.  The Airport was happy to partner with Dean’s Graphics in Champaign.  Dean’s designed the signs, produced the vinyl wrapping, and installed everything.

 

 

 

 

 

Willard contracted with Neverman Floor Artisans in Tolono for the $99,000 project, also paid through airport operating funds.  Neverman replaced the carpet throughout the terminal, including the gate areas, jetbridges, airline operational areas behind ticket counters, rental car offices, the second floor landing and administrative offices, and the airport conference room.

Willard Airport will continue to invest in the facility, striving to continue terminal upgrades, and ensuring the facility is set to operate efficiently for decades to come.

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When Willard Airport’s passengers collapsed as the pandemic took hold, the Airport quickly worked with federal agencies to replace lost revenue, and keep everyone working on the field employed.  Unlike other central Illinois airports, Willard gets no local tax revenue – so the pandemic created a challenge deeper for Willard than for most other airports.  With the Airport’s quick action, the community is well positioned for air service recovery, and even growth.

It’s no surprise that the pandemic has been challenging for all airports around the world.  Willard Airport is especially susceptible to pandemic impacts because such a high proportion of passengers are traveling for business.  Many of the Airport’s most frequent travelers have been grounded since the pandemic began.  That puts a huge dent in the Airport’s budget.

Unlike other airports in Central Illinois, including Bloomington, Peoria, and Springfield, Willard Airport is not supported by local tax money.  Those other airports get millions a year from property taxes.  Willard Airport doesn’t impose any tax on the local community.

That means Willard has to run like a business.  The Airport has to be fully supported by incoming revenue, from things like landing fees, airline rent, terminal concessions, rental car revenue, and, yes, parking fees.  When passengers dropped by more than 50%, so did the Airport’s revenue.

Thankfully, Willard received a total of $5.14 million in COVID relief funds.  Willard qualified for grants through various programs, including CARES, CRRSAA, and ARPA. The vast majority of the money is being spent directly on staff payroll.  Our passengers are still down about 40% from pre-pandemic levels, and so is our revenue.  Grant funding ensures we can keep our staff employed, and the Airport ready for traffic to rebound.

We’re also working to develop new sources of funding to better connect Champaign-Urbana to the world.  We’ll soon be applying for a Small Community Air Service Development Grant from the Department of Transportation.  The money can be used to offer airline incentives for expanded service, as we work to emerge from the pandemic.

Airports all over the country leverage these grants for expanded air service.  More than 200 new routes have been supported by the grants.  And the Airport hopes to add its name to the list of airports with better connectivity because of enhanced airline incentives.

Willard’s primary target for new air service is Washington, DC.  The market generated more than 50 passengers each day that traveled to DC before the pandemic.  But Willard is competing with many other airports for that coveted service.  A grant will help to set the community apart from others that are recruiting the same aircraft and pilot resources.

In addition to DC, the Airport continues to meet with airlines to talk about service in other high priority markets such as Florida, Las Vegas, and hubs to the west.

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The Willard Airport team isn’t done working to make the passenger experience better.  As traffic rebounds, more inbound visitors to Champaign-Urbana will be renting cars.  The Airport will be working with rental car companies to build a new vehicle service center, ensuring cars are cleaned, disinfected, inspected, and safe.

The $1.2 million project will include a new car wash, right next to the rental car lot.  Cars are currently cleaned away from the terminal, in an outdoor enclosure, which is far from ideal. Anytime the temperature outside is below freezing, car washing operations are suspended.  The new facility will improve turnaround time, and make rental car agent jobs a lot easier with clean cars 365 days a year.

The project will be entirely funding through rental car concessions fees, collected each time a customer rents a car.  Rental car companies are happy to fund the project because it will make their service at Willard much better.

While arriving passengers will notice a big improvement in the car rental experience, the Airport is also working to ensure arriving flights are as safe as possible. Willard will be reconfiguring the midfield taxiways intersection, bringing the geometry of the taxiways into FAA compliance.

Currently near the midfield of the airport, the taxiways have some confusing turns and intersections that can be difficult for a pilot to navigate. The re-aligned taxiways will make sure that all pilots, regardless of whether they have flown to Willard before, can easily get where they’re going on the airfield.

That project will cost approximately $4.0 million. The Airport is working with federal and state agencies on the funding plan right now – but its likely the Airport’s contribution will be less than $250,000. The project will be completed in 2023.

The Airport is continually identifying areas of the airfield, and facilities, that need to be improved.  On the long-term list are further terminal enhancements, including the relocation and expansion of the TSA screening checkpoint.

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Willard Airport has three runways.  All runways are critical for both airline operations and flight training.  But the Airport’s “crosswind” runway – used when unusual wind patterns develop – was in a state if disrepair.  Without attention, it could have been decommissioned.

The last time the crosswind runway was fully paved was 1978.  In the more than 40-years since, it has shown signs of significant aging. Airport crews have worked to preserve the pavement to the best condition possible by maintaining cracked concrete panels, panel blow ups, and joint distress.  But repairs weren’t going to be enough to keep the runway fully operational.

Working with partners, Willard Airport was able to come up with a funding plan for the $12.4 million project – and only $550,000 came from Willard, itself.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allocated more than $11 million for the runway after it determined the runway was a critical piece of aviation infrastructure.  The State of Illinois also contributed a half-million dollars.

 

The project completely rehabilitated the 6,500 foot long runway, adding nine additional inches of asphalt over the existing rubblized concrete.  More than 54,000 tons of asphalt was used to construct the new pavement surface.  Almost 3 miles of airfield cabling for lighting and signage was replaced, and all signs were replaced, too.

The new runway opened in October of 2021.  It’s been serving American Airlines, private jets, and flight training operations ever since.  And it won’t have nearly the maintenance cost as the old pavement, helping the Airport’s budget for many years to come.

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