“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
— Benjamin Franklin.
The Columbia Regional Airport Board has spoken with a split voice, and the City Council needs to make its recommendation on the Essential Air Service bids for a new airline in Columbia. Yet you, the traveling consumers of the middle of Middle America, can be the final word on this selection.
I commend the members of the board for their due diligence in the research and review of all of the material provided and conducting additional outside research. With limited time, information and discussion, the split decision was inevitable.
As a single voice, the board rejected the bids by Hawaii Island Air for a number of reasons. The biggest? The flight times offered by Hawaii Island were simply not acceptable. That left two.
Great Lakes and Mesaba have equal advantages and problems, and I want to be fair to both. Great Lakes is the best established of the EAS carriers. They have even assisted in advancing at least two other airports out of the EAS category. Great Lakes plans to fly three round trips daily from Kansas City and have a solid working relationship with other airlines to share rates, schedules and ticketing. There are two drawbacks. First, Great Lakes needs to acquire 10 more aircrafts, the 19-seat Beechcraft 1900, not only to satisfy new routes from Columbia, but other routes that have been awarded but not yet served. Second, they do not offer single ticket service, meaning you have to book twice, once out of Columbia and once out of Kansas City.
Mesaba is a wholly owned subsidy of Northwest Airlines and proposes to fly its three round trips to and from Memphis International Airport, a major hub for Northwest. You will have a single ticket issued by Northwest for domestic and international flights through Memphis. Technically, you can leave Columbia in the morning and be in New York or Orlando for lunch. Or in Amsterdam by lunch the next day with only two stops. Northwest travels to 88 cities from Memphis; Kansas City offers 68 designations. Finally, Mesaba is using a larger aircraft, a 34-seat Saab, both an advantage and disadvantage. A larger aircraft means more comfort but is more expensive to operate, which means a larger subsidy from the government.
It comes down to what you want, where you want to go and how much you are willing to spend. Though the cost to fly to Memphis is $20 more than to Kansas City, there are more opportunities for rate reductions with Mesaba/Northwest than Great lakes and anyone else. For now, forget about flights direct to Chicago, Dallas or New York until we can prove to be a viable market.
There is another piece to the puzzle, the argument over reliability. An independent report, the Airline Quality Rating, was released last week by Dr. Brent Bowen of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Dr. Dean E. Headley of Wichita State University. The study indicates that Northwest Airlines ranks better (5) than Continental (7) and United (8), both Kansas City carriers, but has consistently improved their operations since 2002.
I took an impromptu and not very scientific survey concerning the issue at hand. The response was, well, underwhelming. Twenty-five percent would rather fight I-70 and drive to St. Louis or Kansas City. More than 60 percent wish to fly to Memphis. Regardless of the advisory board’s position or that of the council, the Department of Transportation has the final word — after you. It’s your turn to speak up. Maybe Franklin was right. Let sanity return. Let’s all go to Graceland, Memphis, Tenn.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He is also a member of the Columbia Regional Airport Advisory Board. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.