Council recommends Mesaba Aviation

Monday, April 21, 2008 | 11:21 p.m. CDT; updated 5:06 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — City Council voted unanimously Monday night to recommend Mesaba Aviation Inc., which would fly to Memphis, as its preferred airline to fly out of Columbia’s airport.

The council’s choice matched opinions expressed during the public hearing. Residents said they were in favor of Memphis because it’s a hub offering more connections than Kansas City.

Columbia resident Mike Naughton said he recommends Mesaba also because the company owns bigger planes and offers a higher chance of a direct connection once the plane reached Memphis.

Byron Hill, a Columbia resident, also spoke in favor of Mesaba.

“I would like to see Columbia in an engagement with a hub city,” Hill said.

David Rosman, a member of the Airport Advisory Board, reiterated that he was not speaking on behalf of the board when he spoke in support of Mesaba at the meeting.

The Airport Advisory Board split its support between Mesaba and Great Lakes Aviation at its April 2 meeting.

But Rosman said Mesaba was a good choice, warning that past failures enforce any air carrier’s need to emphasize promotion, or getting more people to the airport.

“We need to promote the airport from within at the colleges, the downtown business and the Chamber of Commerce to make Columbia a destination,” Rosman said. “We need to be diligent in promotion.”

No one spoke on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, the Special Business District, colleges or universities at the meeting.

Mesaba Aviation, also recommended by city staff, would offer three round-trip flights per day between Columbia and Memphis International airports, if it’s chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Although the final decision of air carriers rests on the U.S. Department of Transportation, it will be accepting and considering the input of Columbia and that of the other communities involved.

The fact that Memphis is a hub won over the council, even though Mesaba is the most expensive choice, seeking an annual subsidy of nearly $2.2 million from the federal government.

“I am excited with Mesaba and see no reason to play the game with Kansas City and St. Louis anymore,” Fourth Ward Council Member Jerry Wade said. “We would have a direct flight to a hub, which is what we have wanted.”

Mayor Darwin Hindman was also enthusiastic about Mesaba’s proposal. “It is different than what we have had,” Hindman said. “So far everything we have tried hasn’t worked.”

The Department of Transportation also received bids from Great Lakes Aviation and Hawaii Island Air. Both of these air carriers would have offered daily flights to Kansas City.

Mesaba’s three flights to Memphis from Columbia, which would be about an hour and a half each, will depart at 5:54 a.m., 11:25 a.m. and 4:25 p.m. Flights to Columbia from Memphis will be at 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. The cost of a ticket would be around $95.

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Herman Lueckenotte April 28, 2008 | 9:07 p.m.

Answer to Missourian Story Tuesday April 22, 2008

Here’s the likely scenario. Things will be a changing with the Delta-Northwest merger, which is sure to go through. Delta will be in the driver’s seat. We’re already hearing there will be sidelining of the older Northwest DC9s, and Delta’s MC80s. There will definitely be more sidelining of the smaller regional jets.

Several aviation/airline consulting firms say it is inevitable that there will be downsizing and cutbacks with the merger, even though the merger consortium maintains not at this time. AA proclaimed the same when they took over TWA. The consensus is that due to the great fuel crisis, all airlines will be going through downsizing and cutbacks, and reorganizing of their aircraft fleets. They now are predicting there could be substantial downsizing of both the Cincinnati and Memphis hubs…Cincinnati is too close to Detroit, and Memphis is too close to Atlanta.

Delta was one of the first legacy carriers to have disposed of the smaller turboprops. The SAAB 340s that Mesaba/Northwest propose using, will be taken out of service very soon after the merger. They are tired, old aircraft, and Northwest is about the only legacy carrier that is still using that size of turboprops. The sure thing is that they will NOT replace those flights with fifty passenger jets…they are going to the desert en masse. Consequently, it is very that we see the EAS proposal up once again, and I predict it will be in short time…possibly in less than a year.

Given the above situations, we’re not over this mess yet.

The best bet is for a locally owned independent small commuter airline based in Central Missouri, operating to both St. Louis and Kansas City with FREQUENT flights.

With truck traffic expected to double in the next few years, it is sure we’ll see major construction delays in the reconstruction of I-70. Believe me, if that happens, many will wish there was a better way to St. Louis and Kansas City.

Truly, this award to Mesaba/Northwest is only temporary, and is probably the best immediate solution for the time being…good job, ladies and gentlemen. However, I doubt EAS will approve the three flights a day. Remember, EAS is just that “Essential Air Service”. And the cost of $2.2 million for three daily flights (more than double the cost of two flights @ $900,000 for two daily flights for only fifty percent more available seats) proves Northwest is not too confident of the needed passenger enplanements.

In my “guestimate” of numbers, shows that with three flights, a very minimum of 1,500 passengers per month (O & D) will be needed over and above the EAS money in order for them to break even with a 50% load factor…their break even load factor quite possibly will be greater. It will take more than a 50% load factor to break even with a $95 fare…considerably more with a 50 passenger regional jet for so long as they are still around.

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