COLUMBIA — City Manager Mike Matthes said during a radio talk show Monday that he hopes Columbia Regional Airport will offer flights to a second destination by summer.
Right now, passengers flying out of Columbia Regional Airport must go to Memphis in order to board connecting flights to other destinations. City officials for years have coveted a second destination. Matthes discussed the subject briefly on "Intersection," a talk show broadcast live on KBIA-91.3 FM.
"I'd love to say it's going to happen this summer, so I will," Matthes said in response to a question about new flights from "Intersection" host Reuben Stern. "... That's what we're shooting for. I think all the tumblers are in place. We just have to, you know, make it happen."
Asked which cities any new flights might target, Matthes said he wouldn't be "picky."
"At this point, we'll take Chicago, Dallas or Denver," he said.
Matthes said changes in the airline industry have created a climate in which those sorts of destinations have become more feasible.
"The demand for those locations is clear," he said. "They have space available (because) airlines have scaled back, and there are planes available."
Delta Air Lines currently offers a morning and an evening flight to Memphis each day Sunday through Friday. It had previously offered three flights per day, but decided in the fall that it would eliminate mid-day flights in the winter, in part to combat the high cost of jet fuel.
The Memphis flights have proved popular since Delta Air Lines began them in August 2008. It began the flights under an Essential Air Service contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation that provided a $2.2 million annual subsidy. That marked the first time that passengers could fly commercial jets from Columbia to anywhere other than St. Louis or Kansas City.
When Delta renewed its contract in 2010, however, it announced it would no longer require that subsidy.
Delta also replaced its Saab 340 jets, which seated 34 passengers, with 50-seat Canadair Regional Jets in 2010.
The comments from Matthes about a second flight destination came during a larger conversation about the potential expansion of the airport and a renovation of its terminal building. The city is looking to raise its lodging tax in order to fund an expansion of the airport.
Mike Kelly, general manager of Stoney Creek Inn and a board member for the Missouri Hotel and Lodging Association, appeared on the program to outline his opposition to a higher lodging tax.