Director’s Corner – 2022 Newsletter Issue 3

Letter from the Executive Director – Dec. 2022

Our airport is excited to welcome new, larger jets, starting this month.  American Airlines’ regional affiliate, Envoy, now operates both daily roundtrips to and from Dallas/Ft. Worth with 76-seat Embraer ERJ175 aircraft.  The planes are much larger than the 50-seaters previously used on the route, and they feature 12 first class seats – the first time American has offered a first class product in Champaign-Urbana.  The plane also has larger overhead bins, which means you won’t have to gate-check your roll aboard.

The shift to larger planes adds about 25% more daily departing seats, which could help to lower fares, and will ensure you have more travel options.  American is also flying a third daily departure to Chicago O’Hare for the holiday season, to keep up with resilient demand in our market.

Our travelers are filling more seats at Willard Airport than at any time in history.  This summer, 91% of all seats went out full – among the highest share of any airport in the Midwest.  We know Willard can support more airline capacity.

To that end, we have spent the fall meeting, in person, with a number of airlines to ensure they understand the market dynamics.  We meet not only with “network carriers” like American, but also many low-cost airlines that could connect east central Illinois to vacation destinations such as Florida and Las Vegas.

The current challenge for all carriers is a lack of pilots.  More than 4,000 pilots retired during the pandemic, and there simply aren’t enough fully qualified pilots available to fill those positions.

Parkland College, a tenant at Willard, is working to train the next generation of pilots – with 100 future aviators currently enrolled.  But it will be several years before those students are ready to fly passengers.

Until then, we will continue to make the case that our market is the best place for airlines to allocate aircraft and pilot time.  And, as you’ll read in this newsletter, the federal Department of Transportation also believes in Champaign-Urbana with an $850,000 grant award to help us recruit service to Washington, DC.

In the meantime, we appreciate when you Fly Champaign-Urbana first.

Tim Bannon, A.A.E.
Executive Director
University of Illinois – Willard Airport

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