Today’s News-Gazette updates us on plans for a marketing campaign designed to increase air service at Champaign’s Willard Airport. The University of Illinois owns and manages the airport. Plans are to contract that function to another entity.
What stood out was this run-down of possible new destinations and what it tells us about prospects for air service expansion in other central Illinois cities.
— In the hunt for new air service destinations, Charlotte, N.C., might be the most likely East Coast candidate. American Airlines has hinted it may consider one airport in central Illinois for service to Charlotte, which has been a hub for American acquisition US Airways. New York and Washington are considered “unlikely” destinations for Willard, but Miami is a possibility.
— The UI has talked with another major carrier, United Airlines, about possible service. United has indicated service to Washington — Willard’s most desired destination — is unlikely, but Newark, N.J., is a possibility.
— The other major air carriers, Southwest and Delta, are unlikely to extend service to Champaign-Urbana. Southwest has largely pulled out of regional airports, and Delta isn’t going into regional airports it doesn’t already serve. The UI is talking with smaller airlines, such as Allegiant, about other possibilities, including less-than-daily service to Florida.
This one is interesting. American Airlines has hinted it may consider one airport in central Illinois for service to Charlotte. My guess is that Bloomington-Normal or Peoria would be beneficiaries, and most likely the latter given Caterpillar’s major presence in the Charlotte region, including nine facilities and about 2,000 employees in North Carolina alone. Some of these plants are new or have been expanded in the last few years, and generate steady business travel. Not enough to support Charlotte service on its own, but certainly enough to help make it profitable. Champaign has no chance of getting American Eagle flights to Charlotte. Same for Miami.
If United Express service to Washington (Dulles?) is unlikely from Champaign, then I see little chance for Bloomington or Peoria either. Makes me wonder if the Quad Cities really has a chance either, given the new governor’s policy if freezing state subsidies (approved last year) pending review. Probably not. And if United Express has indicated that Newark is possible, then Bloomington or Peoria are more likely than Champaign.
Given some recent discussion of its rising passenger numbers and a second jetway, this has to be disappointing for Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. Delta isn’t going into regional airports it doesn’t already serve.
It’s great that Champaign is trying to expand its air service offerings, but there are reasons they’re now limited to American Eagle flights to Chicago-O’Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth. FlightStar Corporation. If that firm’s maintenance hangars aren’t expanded to accommodate larger jets, the city could lose that too.
There are reasons Bloomington and Peoria have dominated Central Illinois air service for years now – location and size, respectively. Loss of AirTran Airways at the former has eliminated a distortion. Peoria has benefited wildly, so has Springfield. Bloomington will hang on a bit, but the jury is still out on Champaign.
– David P. Jordan