Three airlines bid for Columbia Regional Airport services

Monday, March 24, 2008 | 7:14 p.m. CDT; updated 2:21 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Three airlines submitted proposals to take over essential air service at Columbia Regional Airport, but the federal subsidy each service is requesting would be far more than that received by the current carrier, Air Midwest.

Mesa Air, doing business as Air Midwest, which has been providing flights to and from Columbia Regional Airport since October 2006, told the city and the U.S. Department of Transportation in January that it would discontinue service on April 20. The airline has struggled to make money on flights to St. Louis and Kansas City since its arrival, and city officials have complained of inconsistent service and rising ticket prices.

The bids by the three new airlines each ask for a significant increases in the $598,751 annual federal subsidy Air Midwest receives for serving Columbia. They seek annual subsidies between $891,100 and $2.2 million, depending on the number of daily flights and the destination.

Great Lakes Aviation of Cheyenne, Wyo., and Hawaii Island Air of Honolulu each proposed flights to and from Kansas City. The third bidder, Mesaba Airlines of Eagan, Minn., proposed daily flights to Memphis.

When Air Midwest took over as Columbia’s carrier less than two years ago, it offered daily flights to St. Louis and Kansas City. The airline dropped the St. Louis flights in July, opting instead for four daily flights to and from Kansas City. Fares for those flights increased dramatically, from $69 to $150 for a one-way flight, before the airline announced it would pull out of Columbia.

Greg Cecil, a member of the Airport Advisory Board, pointed to significant price increases and inconsistent service as some of the reasons Air Midwest failed to make a profit in Columbia.

During the last round of bidding on essential air service for Columbia in 2006, the Airport Advisory Board, the city staff and the City Council each offered their own recommendations. The advisory board and the council each backed Air Midwest’s pitch for daily flights to and from both Kansas City and St. Louis; city staff supported a competing proposal from RegionsAir to provide four daily-round trip flights to and from St. Louis.

Cecil, who said he has not yet looked at each of the new proposals, said the advisory board and the city staff would both review the proposals and endorse one. The council also will send its recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The board will discuss the proposals at its next regular meeting, scheduled for noon on April 2, at Columbia Regional Airport.

Bill Mosley, a spokesman for the transportation department, said the agency will consider input from Columbia, Jefferson City and other affected areas.

“We’re going to ask for the communities’ comments,” Mosley said.

Mosley had no precise time line for when a decision can be expected but said the transportation department hopes to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

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