A friend cornered me the other day. Stories of Mesa Airline’s demise and the end of air service to Columbia, Kirksville and Joplin made front page news and are causing her undue distress. Her family’s Easter vacation to Colorado may be in jeopardy. “You’re on the airport board. How come Mesa is shutting down? They are ruining my vacation. YOU MUST do something!”
Unlike Orville and Wilbur, I never learned the secret aviation incantations to revive airlines, airplanes, airports and aviators. I never received my copy of the Glenn Curtiss Book of Aviation Magic when I soloed.
Fortunately, the Department of Transportation will not let Columbia go without airline service. Their Feb. 1 order requires the carrier to continue service until a replacement is found. Unfortunately, it appears that the city, the county and the state have done little to take action.
Those “in the know” have suggested that our city manager may be leading a “consortium” seeking airline service to fly somewhere other than Kansas City and St. Louis. When I wrote Bill Watkins a letter asking for information concerning the progress and goals of this “consortium,” he responded in an e-mail: “There is no formal group as you suggest. As such there is no roster, no goals and no meetings, now or scheduled in the future.” Maybe informal?
Don Laird of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce says there is an informal group. So does Jim Divincen of The Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association. Divincen talked about the economic impact a new air service, say to and from Chicago, would have on The Lake ... and maybe Columbia. Columbia officials appear to be sitting on the sidelines. Why is Columbia allowing a lodging association to negotiate? Who is looking out for the economic and aviation interests of Columbia, Boone County and the middle of middle America?
Not our local elected officials who talk a good game but seem to care more about expanding territory, retail sales for taxes and low-paying jobs. (It keeps our unemployment rate down and students from getting in trouble.) Not our city manager, who is not an elected official and does not appear to answer directly to the citizens. In fact, there appears to be little leadership from Columbia to find an air carrier to fly from Columbia to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, New York, Orlando, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else recommended by the members of the Airport Advisory Board, outside consulting firms and you, the voting traveler.
A viable airport, with your support, will bring new high-wage careers to the region, servicing the transportation needs of new and existing businesses. (Companies looking to relocate ask about our airport, the airline and the commitment of the community.) This airport will have an positive economic impact for central Missouri, including our colleges and universities and the Lake. And, in case of a man-made or natural disaster, the airport will be the avenue for relief and evacuate efforts. A viable Columbia Regional Airport is central to our existence. And that’s the short list.
The problem may be the lack of your voice. Collectively, you have been quiet, except to complain about delayed or canceled flights and poor customer service. Columbia Regional Airport is an asset to central Missouri life, economics, education and recreation. The state has provided the legal tools to establish a regional economic transportation district to support our aerodrome. They sit unused.
As a region, we need to demand the economic security and peace of mind a viable airport can and should provide the middle of middle America. You must demand a viable airport from our city, county and state officials and candidates. No more lip service, no more stalling, no more misinformation to appease frustrated travelers. Now is the time to demand action from our officials, elected and otherwise. Now is the time to act.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.