Web Exclusive: Blagojevich plan stream lines air travel to Chicago

By Ebonique Wool

Getting home is no difficult feat if you are a student at the University. There are numerous forms of transportation provided for students including planes, trains and automobiles. Non-University attendants, however, do not have the option of using University specific transportation, such as Willard Airport.

Before Feb. 1, if Champaign residents wanted to go on vacation or had a business meeting to expand their local business, they were forced to use ground transportation the entire way or to the nearest major airport, often times in Chicago. To address this problem, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has started an air service that will take passengers from Decatur, Quincy and Marion to Midway Airport in Chicago.

When need for air transportation was first made known to Blagojevich, he addressed the problem by creating a program initiative that would take people from downstate communities to Midway. Until this program was created in 2003, the only air service from the three communities went to St. Louis.

The process to setting the plan in motion, however, took longer than expected.

“Though it was created in (fiscal year) 2003, no funds were procreated to that program,” said Matt Vanover, spokesman for Blagojevich.

It wasn’t until the 2007 fiscal year that the program was funded, and this took work on the part of the community.

“These communities worked together as a grass roots movement through their legislators,” Vanover said. “They worked with their legislators to make this known, to get this up and moving,”

With persistence, the communities made air transportation an issue of importance, causing Blagojevich to make sure he included it in this year’s budget, Vanover said. The I-Fly program in Illinois was allotted $1.65 million to get the air service started with hope that it will be self-sufficient from the respective airports in the future.

It is hoped by many, that this increased transportation will increase business for the communities in the downstate area.

“It’s always good for the smaller communities to get up to the bigger communities,” said Neil Dettling, Hammond, Ill., resident. “It will bring trade into the community, which we desperately need.”

The air service will be supported by Air Midwest, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group, and will be using Beech 1900 planes. These smaller planes can carry 19 passengers per flight, with prices ranging between $100 to $200 for a round-trip fare.

Students may also benefit from an increase in trade on campus. Friends and family of students will be able to use these services.

Joshua Han, junior in Communications, had not heard of the new program, but he was positive about its implementation.

“Any transportation is useful,” he said.

This seems to be the general feeling about the air service. Vanover said there is a lot of excitement and hope about the new flights in the surrounding communities.

“If the government is willing to support and fund it, then that’s good,” said Dettling, “I really think it will help.”