COLUMBIA — The city should continue to foster its relationship with Delta Air Lines even as it starts down the path of renovating and expanding Columbia Regional Airport and pursuing a second destination for commercial flights.
That's the advice Boyd Group president Mike Boyd offered to the Airport Advisory Board, city officials and others who gathered for a meeting Wednesday afternoon at the airport's terminal building.
As plans move forward for a renovated and expanded airport, the presentation from Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm, emphasized the competitive advantage of Columbia's small regional airport.
The Boyd Group, which has previously worked with the Missouri Department of Transportation on aviation issues in Missouri, is now working with the city to help push the airport to greener, and perhaps wider, pastures. City Manager Mike Matthes said Steve Wyatt, vice provost for economic development at MU, helped the city connect with the consulting firm.
In his presentation, Boyd offered some insight into the financial health of Delta Air Lines, which since August 2010 has provided flights between Columbia Regional and Memphis International airports. Delta canceled one of its three daily flights out of Columbia between December and February but intends to restore those midday flights in March.
Boyd said he believes that despite the administrative and budget issues Delta is facing, there's no need to worry about any negative impact at the Columbia airport.
"This place ran into air service problems because of problems in the airline industry, not because of problems in Columbia," Boyd said.
Boyd said Columbia's flight service market is in high demand, which sets it apart from other regional airports. He cited the fact that nearly 80 percent of the seats on Delta's flights to and from Columbia were filled in 2011, and noted the heavy national and international flight demand from both sports and MU events.
Mayor Bob McDavid said he thinks it's important that Columbia increases its air service.
"University of Missouri is the main driver in Columbia, and the University of Missouri needs that increased service," McDavid said. "And that's the bottom line."
City officials and others have been talking for years about expanding the airport, and first-phase plans for construction on the terminal are already in motion.
On a recent edition of "Intersection," a KBIA-91.3 FM talk show, Matthes discussed short-term goals, which include fixing taxiways on the runway and potentially using a temporary building to give customers more space. These plans are described as "phase 1" in a report shown to the City Council in January.
Boyd also addressed the much-debated topic of a second flight destination. He said that Chicago, at 315 miles away, is an ideal location as opposed to more distant hubs like Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport or Denver International Airport.
Boyd encouraged those at the meeting to focus on maintaining relations with Delta for the time being. He said the airport should push for higher-capacity airplanes to replace the 50-seat jets Delta uses now.
Matthes and the City Council have discussed whether a higher lodging tax might be a good way to help pay for a "phase 2" renovation and expansion of the airport's terminal, a project that would cost an estimated $17 million. The proposal on the table would raise the tax from 4 percent to 7 percent. The tax would need voter approval but is already backed by McDavid.
Talk at the meeting also turned toward the airport's overall budget. Boyd described the challenge airports such as Columbia Regional face when trying to keep up with the demands of an airline. Airlines calculate the cost of flying from Point A to Point B by balancing revenue from fares against the cost of employee salaries, fuel and other expenses. If they come up short on revenue, it falls to airports to make up the difference.
Boyd said his firm will soon put together a more official presentation on its analysis of the airport's future.
Matthes said Boyd's remarks were exciting and that the meeting puts the city and the airport firmly on the path toward expansion and development.
"We are absolutely going in that direction," Matthes said.