HARRISBURG -- A direct flight from Chicago to Marion's Veterans Airport will benefit the region in both business and tourism opportunities, a group of local mayors and area legislators said at a meeting Friday.
Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry, Marion Mayor Mike Absher and Herrin Mayor Steve Frattini, along with Veterans Airport Director Doug Kimmel, hosted the meeting with state Sen. Dale Fowler, (R-Harrisburg), state Reps. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) and Dave Severin (R-Benton) along with several representatives from businesses in the region about obtaining state funding to help offset costs of a direct Marion-Chicago flight.
"This is something that will greatly benefit our area," Henry, the Carbondale mayor, said.
Henry said he, Absher and other local leaders have been working cooperatively to bring opportunities to the region along the Illinois 13 corridor.
"Our position is, anything that benefits us benefits the entire Route 13 corridor," Henry said.
Absher, the Marion mayor, agreed.
"I personally am very excited about the concept of a 50-seat jet that could be 39 minutes wheels-up-to-wheels down to Chicago, Illinois," Absher said.
In 2019, Veterans Airport considered proposals from both Cape Air and SkyWest to provide flights to larger metropolitan areas. The Marion-to-Chicago scenario Absher referred to was part of SkyWest's pitch to win the contract at Veterans Airport, which includes a federal subsidy to offset costs to the carrier and consumers.
Absher said providing such flights will benefit regional businesses with close Chicago ties as well as provide additional tourism opportunities for southern Illinois.
Kimmel, the airport director, said the current carrier at Veterans Airport, Cape Air, won the bid, and provides service to St. Louis and Nashville. However, there has been considerable support for finding a way to provide Marion-to-Chicago service. He said if the state of Illinois can provide a subsidy, the proposed Marion-Chicago flight could happen.
Kimmel said SkyWest estimated it could provide two round-trip flights with a $3.2 million subsidy from the state, or one round-trip flight with a $1.6 million subsidy. Such a subsidy would allow flights one-way at a cost of $79, according to some people at the meeting.
"That's the crux of the issue right there," Kimmel said.
Business owners said the region greatly will benefit if a Marion-to-Chicago flight becomes available.
Cynde Bunch, who co-owns Walker's Bluff near Carterville with her husband Dave, said she frequently flies to Chicago on business. Currently, the most convenient option for her is to take a direct flight from Cape Girardeau to Chicago. That means additional travel time to and from Cape Girardeau, she said. While it is a viable option for people traveling from Chicago, such travelers may be less likely then to explore the southern Illinois region. Landing passengers in Marion will plant them firmly in the middle of the southern Illinois region, she said, increasing the likelihood that Illinois dollars will stay in Illinois.
Windhorst, the 118th District Republican state representative from Metropolis, noted that Paducah, Kentucky's airport also provides service to Chicago. It also is in another state, and the flight time is longer than the proposed Marion-Chicago route.