Task force forms for Willard Airport development

By Daily Illini Staff Report

In an effort to attract more flights to Willard Airport, the University has commissioned a task force that will examine how to give the airport more competitive fares and better air service.

The task force comprises University representatives, public officials and members of the local business community.

Early in the summer of 2013, University President Robert Easter and Chancellor Phyllis Wise were approached in a meeting by representatives from the Champaign County First group and the Economic Development Commission’s airport committee, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email.

The task force members were recommended by the commission’s airport committee and the First group.

Task force chair Steve Carter said the implementation of the task force was a response to community interest and discussions among business groups.

“It’s important to local economy,” Carter said. He added that there needs to be better air service and competitive fares in the area and that “this is a major step forward.”

The task force currently seeks a consultant to help create a plan to attract better air service over time and to sustain that air service, Carter said.

“The air industry is so dynamic right now that you have to have contact with airlines to get flights,” Carter said.

The University will help fund the consultant who would work with the task force and the Champaign County First group.

Should the task force not reach its goal, the University would not leave the airport business, Kaler said, stressing Willard’s importance to the community.

“A thriving airport is a competitive necessity for a global university,” Kaler said.