The Small Community Air Service Development Program— a federal initiative designed to improve underserved airports — recently awarded nearly $17 million to 25 airports across the country.
The University of Illinois-owned Willard Airport in Champaign County was the only one selected in the state. They took home $850,000 in grant money from the Department of Transportation.
U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Congressman Rodney Davis pushed for the grant’s approval.
The SCASDP grant will support the airport’s efforts to add a direct route to Washington D.C — ideally arriving at Reagan National, though Washington Dulles is a backup option. Currently, Willard Airport flies to Chicago and Dallas.
Tim Bannon, executive director of Willard Airport, said the grant will have a direct impact on the community.
“Obviously, (it’s) very big for our economy, for the university, and for the community. Air service is a backbone of a strong economy,” Bannon said.
It’s unclear when the route to D.C. will be finalized. The grant serves as an insurance policy for interested airlines.
Bannon said there’s a clear need in the community for flights to Washington, D.C.
“Well, there’s a high level of travel today going to Washington, D.C. both in our community and at the University of Illinois, so it’s a highly sought after route,” Bannon continued.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the DOT grants will “help Americans across the country….get to where they need to go more efficiently and affordably.”
Previously, Willard Airport received a $1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to improve its TSA checkpoint.
Neither grant will bring ICE officials to Willard Airport, according to Bannon — a concern raised by immigration activists in some communities in the past.
Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin