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Air travel rebounds at CIRA, but business travel still falls short of pre-pandemic levels

Central Illinois Regional Airport saw more than 330,000 travelers in 2021.
Emily Bollinger
Central Illinois Regional Airport saw more than 330,000 travelers in 2021.

Air travel has picked up in Bloomington as the pandemic winds down, but Central Illinois Regional Airport director Carl Olson said there are several concerning signs for the airline industry.

“Now we have trouble in Europe. We have a severe pilot shortage. We have rapidly increasing fuel prices, especially jet fuel,” Olson said. “Looking forward, that is going to put a bit of a damper on continued growth.”

Olson said air travel at CIRA is back to 80% of pre-pandemic levels. That's better than the national average and the best among regional airports in central Illinois.

Olson said leisure travel has rebounded much more quickly than business travel has.

“We are starting to see some of our major travel generators start to slowly come back into the system,” Olson said. “It’s too early to tell if there’s going to be a surge down the road, or if it’s going to continue to be a trickle.”

CIRA saw about 330,900 passengers last year. That compares with 421,500 passengers in 2019. Enplanements, which only includes travelers who originate from Bloomington, rebounded to about 166,000 after falling from about 209,000 pre-pandemic.

Olson said he's encouraged to see continued use of CIRA's service to Detroit. He said electric automaker Rivian uses it often and also makes frequent trips to Atlanta, near where it plans to build a new auto plant.

“The message we are getting from Rivian is they are not only using it to bring their Michigan people back and forth to Bloomington-Normal, but they are using it as a launch point as they go to other places around the United States,” Olson said.

Olson noted other aspects of the airport’s business improved. Fuel sales (2.53 million gallons) saw a big increase from 2020 and came within 90% of 2019 levels (2.81 million). Air cargo (12.9 million pounds) in 2021 nearly matched 2019 totals (13.1 million).

The Transportation Security Administration recently extended its COVID mask requirements on all public transportation through April 18.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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