SPRINGFIELD - A plan to launch air service between Chicago's Midway Airport and three downstate communities could be in a holding pattern until next spring.
Despite a state grant worth $1.2 million and a desire to get the planes flying by October, the head of Great Lakes Aviation says it may be March 1 before the 19-seat turboprops touch down in Decatur, Marion and Quincy.
"Airline wisdom says if you were going to do it in a perfect world, you'd wait and file schedules the first of January and launch it March 1st. That way you build momentum," said Chuck Howell, chief executive officer of the Wyoming-based airline.
"I don't think it will happen between now and this fall," said Howell.
The slower-than-anticipated start-up comes as a disappointment to state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, who said he'd like to see flights begin sooner.
"Obviously, I'd like to see it start as soon as possible," said Bradley. "But I will leave those decisions up to the experts."
The downstate flight plan was negotiated as part of the new state budget, which takes effect July 1.
Under the state's I-Fly program, taxpayers will subsidize flights between the three cities and Midway to the tune of $1.2 million. None of the cities currently has direct flights to Chicago.
Howell said Great Lakes anticipates providing two daily flights in and out of each community. The Quincy flights will likely be non-stop, while flights out of Marion would likely stop in Decatur to pick up and drop off passengers.
He envisions the first flight of the day leaving between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and the last one arriving back at 8 p.m.
Ticket prices have not been determined.
"The goal is to make is successful," said Howell.
Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation said officials couldn't comment on the status of the flights because the agency is in the middle of contract negotiations.
However, Vanover said the goal is to get service started by October 1.
Great Lakes' Illinois operation will be its farthest east. The Wyoming-based carrier currently flies into 40 cities in 10 western states.