Passenger traffic jumped over 15% at Central Illinois Regional Airport in 2019, buoyed by a strong mix of business and leisure travelers.
“There’s more vibrancy in the economy in central Illinois than there has been in the past few years,” said CIRA executive director Carl Olson. “We’re seeing a broader leisure traffic base that is not just Bloomington-Normal centric. And we’re seeing the same thing with business travelers. For example, we have a very strong relationship with ADM in Decatur. And they’re using our airport significantly more than they did in the past.”
Rivian, the electric automaker that’s staffing up at its Normal manufacturing plant, is also making a difference, Olson said. Rivian, which also has offices in California and Michigan, is flying people in on commercial, corporate, and charter aircraft, he said.
“It’s not just Rivian employees. It’s all their partners, suppliers, and vendors who are getting their plant online who are coming from all over the world. And these are folks who are coming into the community … if you’re flying from Asia or Europe, you’re not going to daytrip in Bloomington-Normal. So they’re staying extended stays,” Olson said.
In total, 421,519 passengers passed through CIRA in 2019, up 15.6% from 2018, the airport reported. American Eagle is the airport’s largest airline by share (37% of traffic). Its traffic jumped 10.8% in 2019.
The biggest challenge facing CIRA, Olson said, is the volatility and uncertainty of global events, which can affect oil prices and other parts of the economy.
Most recently, it’s been the novel coronavirus outbreak. One of CIRA’s five snow-removal trucks needs a new fuel injector. But that item is made in the part of China that’s become ground zero for the coronavirus, so it’s been delayed, Olson said. That’s slowed down snow-removal efforts a bit at CIRA, even though the other trucks are fine, he said.
“It is that unknown volatility. You just don’t know what’s around the bend next,” he said.
Another challenge is the increasingly competitive nature of airports. Olson pointed to Allegiant’s recent decision to add seasonal, summer service to Florida’s panhandle.
“They had to take that airplane and flight crew out of another market and give it to us. When we compete for air service, we’re competing nationally. Not just regionally.”
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