COLUMBIA – At Columbia Regional Airport, planners are thinking about the future. On Monday, the Columbia City Council will vote to allocate funds for a study to recommend improvements for the airport’s terminal.
As more passengers fill Delta Air Lines flights, the only commercial airline operating out of Columbia Regional Airport, the terminal’s ability to handle future capacity is of concern.
“If another airline or Delta wants to add more flights we’d like to able to accommodate that,” said John Riddick of the Airport Advisory Board.
Before Delta Air Lines began service to the airport in 2009, its projected load factor, or passenger-to-seat ratio, was 42 percent. Based on that prediction, the airline began flying 34 passenger turboprop airplanes at the airport.
In February 2010, the airline upgraded to 50 passenger jets, and the load factor has been around 82 percent for three daily flights, said Jill Stedem, Public Information Specialist of the Columbia Public Works Administration.
“They went to the jets which were fifty seats and the load factor didn’t fall off, so there’s a lot of people there,” Riddick said.
Before the council is a proposal to allocate $33,700 for a conceptual study of the terminal, which would influence a possible renovation of the building, according to a report prepared for the city council by John Glascock, Director of Public Works.
“Design is not until 2014,” Stedem said explaining the purpose of the study. “Unless we get funding ahead of that it’s quite a ways a way.”
“They’ve been working with the airport staff for last two years, so they are well versed in what we need at Columbia,” Stedem said.
The plan details recommendations for capital improvements, but has some limitations.
“The master plan does not deal with the terminal itself. It deals with the runway and space around the outside,” Stedem said.
Future capacity is the key concern. Though the plan does grade the terminal fair to good for flow of passengers, acceptable delays, and level of comfort, it doesn’t make recommendations for improving the building. The master plan and officials predict that the current building won’t adequately serve an increase of travelers.
“Obviously as the airport continues to grow and commercial service continues at the rate it is now, we will need to find funding for this in the future,” said Stedem. “We had in the 1960s the building that we are trying to continue to utilize the best way we can.”
Riddick explained the barrier to further airport expansion is the terminal’s inability to accomodate multiple flights at once, as flights must be scheduled around each other.
“Maybe the time they’d like to come here is dictated by other airports. Larger airports will have time slots,” he said. “We can really only handle one flight at a time with the current building.”
Riddick said the study could deal with other space concerns, such as security and fire protection.
When security was added after 9/11, temporary buildings were constructed to accommodate passengers waiting for planes after passing through security, said Riddick.
If you go down to the airport, (the terminal) is a nice brick architecture,” he said. “I’d be nice to not have a temporary buildings. They’ve been there for a long time.”
Riddick added that the temporary building is too low to accommodate a Jetway from the terminal to an aircraft.
Another concern regards how the building houses the airport’s emergency vehicles.
“It was built, my guess, in the 1970s. The types of trucks that are available now are quite a bit wider than they were in the 1970s. Getting out is okay, but it takes a while to get back in,” Riddick said.
Riddick said that if a separate building could house those vehicles, like at other airports, the space could be better utilized in a redesigned terminal.
Although the conceptual study and tentative designing phase depends on Monday’s council vote, improvements are already underway. Stedem said that the airport will renovate its restrooms this fiscal year; Riddick said that more seating has been recently been installed in the terminal's waiting areas.