COLUMBIA-The city of Columbia will try to block plans by US Airways Express to terminate flights to Kansas City this spring.
Air Midwest, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group that has provided essential air service under the name US Airways Express at Columbia Regional Airport since October 2006, notified the city on Tuesday of its intent to halt flights starting on April 20. The move comes after more than a year of declining passenger numbers, erratic and rising ticket prices, and altered service from the carrier, which operates under a contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
City Manager Bill Watkins announced Air Midwest’s intentions in a news release on Tuesday evening. He said the city has 20 days to file a formal objection with the federal transportation department and fully intends to do so.
“We’re talking with the USDOT about our options, and we will work to keep Air Midwest serving this region as long as it is a viable company,” Watkins said in the release, adding that several communities in Missouri and other states had received similar notices.
Mesa Air Group was one of two carriers that offered to provide essential air service to Columbia Regional Airport after Trans States Airlines went out of business in 2006. With the blessing of the Columbia City Council, the U.S. transportation department selected it over RegionsAir and agreed to pay an annual subsidy of nearly $600,000 to pay for the service.
Mesa began by offering two round-trip flights per day to St. Louis and Kansas City. This past summer, however, it dropped the St. Louis flights, citing low passenger numbers, and began flying to Kansas City four times per day.
City officials and other community leaders have been fretting about the airport’s lackluster service for years, calling it an impediment to existing businesses and efforts to attract new industry to town. Watkins has been working with Jefferson City, Lake of the Ozarks and MU officials for months in an attempt to lure a carrier that would offer daily flights to Chicago in exchange for passenger guarantees. Those talks are continuing.
Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the value of air service to the economy of Columbia and of mid-Missouri.
“It’s an important part of our economic picture and the attractiveness to other firms,” Laird said. Still, he said he remains optimistic that the airport will get over the hump.
“The city of Columbia has some things in the works that will be beneficial.”