The Airport took delivery of its first new fire truck in more than 19 years, for aircraft rescue and firefighting operations, in October.  The Oshkosh Striker is at the top of its class – and 100% paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

As Car and Driver writes, “Think of the Striker as the Porsche 959 of firetrucks. The Striker offers a 30-degree angle of approach and departure, and it can climb a 50-percent grade. It’s designed to flatten the standard chain-link fences that surround U.S. airports. It’s 10 feet wide-with a monster track that helps keep it upright even when it’s leaning 30 degrees to port or starboard.”

“By firetruck standards, it’s also quick. The FAA requires that ARFF trucks accelerate to 50 mph in 35.0 seconds and that, from the moment the alarm sounds, the truck is capable of reaching the midpoint of the most distant runway in no more than three minutes.”

Willard Airport will now have two Strikers within its inventory, one primary vehicle and one reserve vehicle, ready 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.  The Striker is built by the Oshkosh Corporation in Appleton, Wisconsin. Willard Airport maintains a fully staffed, specially trained Fire Department, which operates 24/7/365.

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Andrew Smith, C.M., A.C.E, joined Willard Airport in August 2022 as the Assistant Director of Operations and Maintenance. Originally from New York, Andrew has more than ten years of airport experience.  He’s previously worked in parking and terminal services, FBO line service, and Airport Operations.

Andrew’s most recent position held was as an Airport Operation’s Supervisor where he acted as shift lead and performed various duties such as wildlife hazard management, fueling inspections, construction project coordination, and much more to ensure Part 139 compliance.

In 2021 he completed his Bachelor of Science in Informatics with a concentration in Data Analytics through SUNY Albany. In 2022 he earned his C.M designation through AAAE and is an FAA certified Part 107 drone pilot.

“I’m extremely excited to be serving as the next Assistant Director of Operations and Maintenance at Willard Airport,” said Andrew Smith. “After meeting with much of the team at Willard during the interview process, it was apparent that they had put a great group of knowledgeable and friendly people together and I am honored to now be a part of it. Implementing Willard Airport’s vision and continuing to support the University of Illinois and the Champaign-Urbana community is my top priority.”

He is currently enrolled in the Accredited Airport Executive program with AAAE and will be continuing his education at the University of Illinois.

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Letter from the Executive Director – July 2022

It’s a busy summer at University of Illinois – Willard Airport.  Our terminal is beginning to look like it did before the pandemic, with almost 400 people a day flying in and out.

We’re working hard to modernize the terminal and improve the travel experience.  We just won a million dollar grant to completely re-build the TSA security checkpoint and queuing area.  The new checkpoint will eliminate the lines that sometimes back-up to our escalators, and speed-up the system to get you to your gate more quickly.

The project is well-timed.  While the airline industry is struggling with a pilot shortage, our service has stabilized.  We have American Airlines flights throughout the day to both Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth, connecting east central Illinois to more than 200 cities around the world in a single stop.

Other communities haven’t fared as well.  American has grounded about 100 regional jets – like the ones that serve Champaign-Urbana – because the airline doesn’t have enough pilots to fly them.  Other major carriers, such as Delta and United, have parked even more planes.  Almost 60 airports in the US have lost service from at least one airline, and 11 airports have lost service altogether.

We work to protect our connectivity every day.  But we can only do so much to convince airlines we have demand for more flights.  The real key is you.  The more our local community uses our local airline service, the more evident it is to American – and other airlines – that Champaign-Urbana needs more options.  If we fill more than 85% of our airline seats, we’ll be in a much better position to win exceptionally coveted pilot hours.

Remember, when you fly, Fly Champaign-Urbana first.

Tim Bannon
Executive Director
University of Illinois – Willard Airport

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Willard Airport was proud to be awarded $1 million in federal funding for a new security checkpoint.  The money was the last piece of funding for the $2.6 million project, with most of the other funds coming from the federal infrastructure bill.

The current single-lane checkpoint, which is located on the bridge between the main terminal and the gate area, causes large backups – especially in the morning when multiple flights are departing.  The lines for the checkpoint often go down the stairs to the main terminal, clogging access to the gates.

The new checkpoint will use empty space to the right of the escalators as one ascends from the main terminal.  That space is, essentially, above the ticket counters.  It is perfectly located for a queuing area.  It will also allow for more screening equipment, as passengers rebound following the pandemic.  After the project’s completion, there will be two checkpoint lanes, processing passengers at twice the current rate.

The project also brings Willard Airport into compliance with current TSA regulations, without expanding the terminal, which would have cost millions more.

Design work for the project is already underway.  Construction should begin by the middle of 2023, with completion slated for 2024.

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While the commercial aviation industry faces a huge shortage of qualified pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers, the Parkland Institute of Aviation, at Willard Airport, is working on a solution.  Parkland reports enrollment for aviation programs for fall of 2023 is up 25% from last year, to more than 100 full-time students – the highest number of students since Parkland established the program.

Parkland began training students for aviation careers in 2014, with fewer than two dozen students in the first class.  The program has continually grown, as more high schoolers recognize the opportunity with aviation careers.  Parkland has a fleet of 20 aircraft for pilot training.  All aircraft came from the previous University of Illinois Institute of Aviation.

The median annual wage for a commercial airline pilot jumped to more than $180,000 in 2021, according to data from the Regional Airline Association (RAA).  Parkland has openings for fall of 2023 for students interested in a pilot career.  US airlines currently have more than 5,000 open pilot positions.

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Each year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspects every commercial service airport in the country.  Willard Airport works hard to keep everything on the field in perfect operating condition, so when the time for the year’s inspection comes, the airport is sure to pass.

This year was special: Willard Airport passed without a single discrepancy.  After a comprehensive review of records, training programs, inspection programs, and an on-site visit, this April the FAA couldn’t find a single item out of compliance – something that is exceptionally rare.

“I’m proud that we have been certified at the highest level of safety by our regulators,” said Tim Bannon, Executive Director.

“We are grateful to have such a dedicated and professional operations and maintenance team at our airport who implement and monitor our safety programs so the traveling public can fly with confidence.”

The perfect inspection isn’t the end of the work to keep Willard safe.  Airport staff work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, creating an ideal environment for pilots, travelers, and airport employees.

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Willard Airport launched an airport management intern position last fall.  After an extensive application process, Tingting He was selected for the position.  Tingting earned her bachelor of science degree in aviation management in 2021 from Auburn University.  She just graduated in May with her master’s degree from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois.

Before coming to Willard Airport, Tingting worked as a flight dispatcher at Auburn University Airport.  She was also a flight coordinator for FedEx’s Air Operations division.

At Willard Airport, the internship introduced Tinging to the many facets of managing and operating a Commercial Service Airport. The Airport Management Intern position is assigned work and job shadowing by the Executive Director and is immersed in a variety of projects relating directly to airport administration, business operations, terminal operations, airfield operations, and security.

Tingting did an excellent job at Willard, helping to move projects forward, producing research and data to support business plans and ideas, and going above and beyond on assignments all over the airport.

Tingting has now accepted the position of Operations Specialist II at Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, in Alabama.  She just began working in her new position last month.  She is sure to meet with success.

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Willard Airport has a new fire marshal, replacing John Riegel, after his 21 years in the job.  John Cumbee was promoted to the position in March, after ten years on the job as a crash rescue security specialist and a security coordinator at Willard.

John has worked as a firefighter and administrator for the last 20 years.  He started as a firefighter in 2002 and worked his way up to assistant chief, before coming to Willard Airport.  He currently serves as the Illinois state coordinator for the aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) working group.

John says the best part of the job is working with airport employees, tenants, and travelers to promote the airport, ensuring its safety and security.

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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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