It was a “wow” moment for me. The lot was full.
Tuesday was one of those days when my schedule was interrupted by life. Building exercise equipment in the morning, lunch with Kathy, an Airport Public Advisory Committee meeting, teaching class in the evening and, somewhere in between, laundry.
As a member of the Columbia Regional Airport Advisory Board, I was on the team that helped decide which airline was to serve mid-Missouri. The selection process examined the proposals of three airlines shuffling for the honor to serve the region. Discussions with airline officials, not-so-officials and, of course, continuous airline news from our colleague Herman helped direct our choice.
All the while, Airport Manager Kathy Frerking and the board watched as the number of passengers using Columbia Regional Airport declined, heading toward the demise of our aeronautical lifeline to the world.
For one year, my arrival to the monthly board meeting was greeted by an empty parking lot and a vacant terminal. Even when the previous airline was flying, it had fewer than 500 passengers a month. More recently, DHL announced the end of its air cargo service in the United States, meaning still fewer flights in and out of Columbia. Even General Aviation’s future seemed (excuse the pun) terminal. The outlook was dismal.
As an aviation professional and private pilot, I know how important commercial air service is and will be to mid-Missouri. As a group, the Advisory Board knew the primary demand of our community: on-time and reliable air service. We chose Mesaba Airlines, wholly owned by Northwest Airlines.
I resigned from the board in August because I moved outside of Columbia city limits but joined the Airport’s Public Advisory Committee to keep my hands in the mix.
Ah, what a difference a few months and a new airline make.
On a clear Tuesday afternoon, I traveled the seven miles from my home to the airport. Driving U.S. 63, I wondered what the consulting firm of Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc. would say concerning the new master plan. We met with consultants Joe Jackson and Beth Smyk this summer to discuss the airport’s past and future, what is needed, what will be needed and how we should get there. Today, the consultants invited the Public Advisory Committee back to see the preliminary findings.
As I drove south, a hawk took flight in front of my car toward its roost. Its flight seemed effortless as it flew south, landing in a tree. Once off the highway, I watched a twin-engine Cessna make its final approach for landing. Both sights brought me joy. Then I saw something I never expected — an almost full parking lot. I could only smile.
The committee sat through the 90-minute and 34-slide presentation, the “solutions” phase of the project. The consultants talked about the condition of the runways and the forecast for demand and facilities. I teach speech and am not impressed with PowerPoint presentations, but what they said was most impressing. Our airport is being resurrected.
My heart took flight when I visited the main terminal after the meeting. The paint is new and bright. The lobby was filled with passengers waiting to depart. Even the Web site, FlyMidMO.com, is new. October’s passenger totals showed a 400 percent increase over June. November is expected to be better.
The arrival was full and on time. Mesaba/Northwest reported an 83 percent on-time rate, but they hold themselves to an impossible standard – one minute behind and the flight is deemed late. Regardless, most of the flights arrived early to Memphis for connections.
An employee of one of the car rental companies said Mesaba was the best thing that has happened to Columbia. Columbia police Officer Mark Albertson, a nine-year veteran of airport duty, said it best, “We love it. I’m seeing repeat customers.”
Now it is your turn. Next time you book a vacation or business trip, ask for a quote from Columbia Regional Airport.
As for me? At $169 each for a round-trip flight to Ft. Lauderdale without a two hour drive to St. Louis or Kansas City, we will be celebrating my dad’s 86th birthday on the sand.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.