Task force looks to rebrand Willard Airport

By Elyssa Kaufman

A task force created to rebrand Willard Airport to increase awareness of its location and accessibility will report its strategic plan for the airport by the end of the year.

The 20-member group was created by Chancellor Phyllis Wise last December and will report its results to her.

“The goal of the task force is to see how working with the community and the University can improve air service to be sustainable over time,” said Steve Carter, chair of the chancellor’s advisory task force and former Champaign city manager. “This will reflect more of a partnership between the community and the University.”

The task force is primarily made up of representatives from various businesses, University faculty members and local government officials, such as Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing.

Members of the task force feel it is vital that the University take responsibility, along with the community, for the University-owned airport, said Jayne DeLuce, president and CEO of Visit Champaign County.

“It is important that the task force is a community and campus effort. The task force is a lot of people coming together to make sure Willard Airport is a self-sustaining operation,” DeLuce said.

Steve Wanzek, Willard Airport manager, said one rebranding possibility is the addition of the slogan, “Fly Champaign,” to establish the location of the airport. The hope is that people looking to fly into Champaign will know that Willard is the necessary airport.

Rebranding, Wanzek added, could also include establishing a color scheme and other logos and slogans to standardize the Willard Airport name for print and visual media.

“The role Willard plays is important, because it creates jobs both directly and indirectly,” Carter said. “Our hope is that by completing the plan for the airport, we will have better air service so that people in the community can go where they need to go.”

The University and businesses in the community count on having an airport with good connectivity. Willard Airport has six flights a day that go to Chicago and one flight a day that goes to Dallas. Wanzek said these flights are usually 85 percent full. 

Willard has also been attempting to add eastbound flights to benefit international and out-of-state students.

“A lot of our travel is international that leaves from Champaign,” Wanzek said. “Getting flights to Atlanta or Charlotte would help the international flights through cutting down the amount of necessary connecting flights for international students.”

Willard has also talked to other airlines about potentially adding flight destinations.

Carter said that when looking at data on flights, of all the people flying out of Champaign, only 33 percent fly out of Willard. The task force hopes to increase the number of passengers flying out of Willard by helping the community understand the advantages of using the airport. 

The University holds the largest population of people using Willard due to students traveling home or back to campus. Carter said from a business perspective, it is important to have good transportation to benefit students and faculty members.

“The rebranding will show people coming in for business, international students or community visitors that there are opportunities to travel,” DeLuce said. 

In addition to commercial airline flights, general aviation planes use Willard Airport, Wanzek said. The private aircraft that use the space are a critical part of the business plan.

“The University has a lot of visitors that are here to be guest speakers or are here for research,” Wanzek said. “One of the reasons the rebranding of ‘Fly Champaign ‘is important is for reaching out to people that are not in this community.”

Ultimately, the task force hopes to revitalize Willard Airport.

“An important part of the task force will be for the community and the campus to embrace the airport,” DeLuce said. 

Elyssa can be reached at [email protected].