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Details: CIRA snags air service grant from feds

Tue, 14 Aug 2012 15:55:00 CDT
By: Charlie Schlenker

Central Illinois Regional Airport Director Carl Olson says he's very excited about a half million dollar Transportation Department grant to create new air service to the east coast. Olson says he's not sure yet whether they will target the New York or Washington metro areas, long desired direct destinations. Olson says the money will go to marketing and revenue guarantees for an airline.

"To reduce their investment risk, not to totally wipe it out. That's the focus of this program for an initial limited period of time. So that once ideally the program expires, the service will have gotten legs and strengths of its own and continue on."

Olson says the airport in Bloomington last received such a grant in 2008 that it used to attract American Eagle flights to Dallas. That route is still operating, long after the enticement expired. In contrast, Olson says the airport had to give back federal money after an early 2000s grant failed to sustain service to Denver.

The federal award will be matched by $200,000 from the airport and the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. Willard Airport in Champaign is also getting a half million dollar grant to attract direct service to Dulles Airport in Washington. But, Olson says that does not mean the Bloomington facility will focus on New York. He says there is a sizable demand for service to the east coast everywhere in central Illinois.

"Educational facilities, the universities, state government, agribusiness, finance, and insurance. All those sectors generate a lot of traffic to both Washington and New York . For that reason we think it was a strong proposal and really it's just a strong market that's waiting to be invested in."

Olson says CIRA will make a pitch for whatever market shows the most promise of long term success. The airportis still trying to restore about half the seat capacity lost when Airtran Airways ended service to central Illinois, though additional service to Florida and to the west has already cushioned the blow. Olson credits the entire Central Illinois Congressional Delegation for pressing the case for the funds. U-S Senator Dick Durbin says Bloomington-Normal has a large business and education base and there is currently no nonstop service to any city in the northeast, so the proposed service would materially benefit the traveling public. Another grant award of $250,000 will help Springfield target service to Myrtle Beach, Florida, Las Vegas and or Phoenix.

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