COLUMBIA — Delta Air Lines will continue providing service through Columbia Regional Airport after its contract runs out in August.
Beginning in September, the airline will renew its contract with the Columbia airport. Delta will no longer require a federal subsidy through the Essential Air Service, a government program that ensures air service to communities that otherwise would have lost it due to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, because of the success it has experienced in Columbia.
Delta has recently replaced its Saab 340 Jets, which only seated 34 passengers, with 50-seat Canadair Regional Jets, which will now service the Columbia airport. These two changes mark the success that Delta has found in Columbia since it began its service to the airport in 2008.
"Flight capacities have been way higher than expected and the airline, I'm sure, made a business decision," said Skip Elkin, Boone County commissioner and liaison to the Airport Advisory Board.
"(Memphis)has been a very successful service for us," Trebor Banstetter, a Delta press contact, said. "The city has done a great job of promoting it."
The board has discussed multiple ways to bring in more air service and more flights to make travel more convenient for passengers.
The most recent proposition, called the Air Service Incentives Program, will encourage new airlines to provide service to and from Columbia by waiving certain fees associated with start-up costs at a new airport. City council heard a report on the proposed program Monday, but took no action on it.
The council decided not to take action because it didn't want to provide incentives to Delta's competitors because it has decided to continue its service.
"(You've) got to take care of what you got," Mayor Darwin Hindman said. "... We want to keep Delta."
The council also said City Manager Bill Watkins still has the ability to negotiate with potential new airlines. Jill Stedem, the public information specialist for the city's public works department, spoke in favor of the incentives before the meeting.
"New airlines that express interest in Columbia Regional Airport would benefit from this," said Stedem.
Airlines could save money on many costs including landing fees, counter rental fees, new service launch events and press conferences. The proposed program would also provide advertising and marketing support to airlines from within the airport's existing budget.
Despite these potential losses in revenue for the Columbia airport, Stedem said that increased air service will bring in revenue from other areas such as law enforcement fees and passenger fees. The report presented to the council said the program would not cost the city any additional money.
Elkin said he is unsure whether the council will approve the program. He said that the program "just makes sense."
Stedem said that if the program is approved by the council and then launched, the airport and public works department will work with a consultant to get the word out to airlines.