Willard task force recommends to increase flight locations for international students

By Elyssa Kaufman

For international student Patrick Ang, flying from Singapore to Champaign isn’t easy.

Willard Airport’s flights to Chicago and Dallas provide options, but not as many as students and the airport’s new advisory board wish. Within the next three years, the airport plans to expand locations to major hubs across the U.S. and improve air service. 

Steve Carter, advisory board chair, said they want to encourage international students to fly directly into Willard rather than flying into O’Hare and then taking a bus to Champaign. 

“Willard means an extra connection flight for me and could cost as much as $300 to $400 United States dollars more without being that much of a convenience as far as time is concerned,” Ang, freshman in FAA, said. “If Willard were to offer routes that involve greater time savings, that allow me to transit to Willard through San Francisco International Airport or New York, it may be worth it to consider as an option.”

At the beginning of 2014, a task force was created to present a business plan to Chancellor Phyllis Wise regarding the revamping of the airport. The plan, presented in late January, also included governance recommendations, including creating a CEO, adding more community representation and a new management system for the airport. 

“From the task force perspective, one of the most important recommendations is to put some management in place that has responsibility for implementing the strategic plan,” Carter said. “This management would particularly work on air service development and marketing the airport.” 

Mike DeLorenzo, associate chancellor, said the task force has recommended either outsourcing the airport or hiring more of a CEO and then instituting a marketing plan and branding campaign. 

DeLorenzo said Willard’s delays are in response to connecting Chicago flights. Carter said last year flights averaged over 80 percent capacity, which is profitable from an airline standpoint but could be increased to 90 percent if the airport added flights. 

“Willard’s delays or cancellations are about 19 percent overall, whereas Chicago’s are about 30 percent. For a regional airport, we are in a pretty good range.” DeLorenzo said. 


University’s relation to Willard

Willard Airport is owned and operated by the University and established an Institute of Aviation at Willard in 1946.  

“Having flights that can get to international destinations for research opportunities to domestic operations is beneficial,” said DeLorenzo. “There is the academic piece, the research piece, and for the students, staff and faculty to be able to get in and out on business or for students to access the University.”

Aside from international travel, Carter said Willard has no presence in social media and part of a marketing plan would look to implement a social media presence in order for Willard to have more contact with passengers. 

“The chancellor, when considering the task force, had a lot of interest expressed from the local business community, but she seemed to be really committed to making some improvements (to the airport), because the airport is important to the University,” Carter said. 

Carter said having more flights is important and will benefit not only the local community but faculty, staff and students. 

Right now, the University puts $400,000 a year into Willard operations, and Carter said it is not possible for Willard to be self supporting, in the short run, because elements required to make the airport self supporting are not in place. Carter added that looking at economic development on the airport and getting more flights will increase the revenue. 

The task force report calls for the local governments and the community to consider providing some additional funding for the short term, Carter said. 


Ground Transportation Recommendations 

One aspect of the strategic plan presented by the task force was ground transportation, including improving taxi service. One recommendation believes cabs should be able to accept credit cards for payment, as passengers sometimes lack cash on-hand. 

In addition, the airport wants to continue to improve coordination with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District to provide bus services that accommodate flight times. 

Hannah Schumacher, freshman in FAA from St. Paul, Minnesota, said she experienced a lack of ground transportation. 

“I flew out of Willard, and it was very convenient, but there needs to be a more direct bus to Willard and better prices,” Schumacher said.

The report also recommends for the airport to switch to automated parking. Carter said cars stack up with limited staffing if two flights come in at close timing. Also, the parking staff has limited hours, which can create limited parking hours. 

Elyssa can be reached at [email protected]