COLUMBIA — American Eagle airlines could add new flights between Columbia Regional Airport and Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth in February, Mayor Bob McDavid announced Thursday.
Flights between Columbia and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport would occur twice daily, McDavid said, while flights to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport would run once a day.
A revenue guarantee fund raised by city officials and the Chamber of Commerce that would protect airlines from losses they might incur from adding flights to Columbia was a factor in negotiations with the airline, McDavid said.
The new flights are subject to approval by the Columbia City Council, the contributors to the revenue guarantee and by American Airlines, of which American Eagle is a subsidiary.
If these flights are added, Columbia will have direct service to three of the four largest hubs in the country, McDavid said.
"I don't think you could find a city in the United States more than one stop from Columbia starting next spring," McDavid said.
The contributors to the revenue guarantee included the Zimmer Radio Group, the Chamber of Commerce, MU, Boone County, Cole County and Jefferson City, McDavid said. The fund now includes more than $3.3 million, he said.
McDavid said the flight to Chicago is especially valuable for MU because it will help it attract more out-of-state students. The university contributed to the revenue guarantee fund in the hopes that new flights would increase its appeal in other regions, McDavid said.
McDavid, however, expressed concern that the new flights would worsen the airport's passenger capacity problem.
"We are woefully under capacity at the airport and we will need a substantial expansion of the airport terminal," McDavid said. The city council recently appropriated funds to expand the terminal with double-wide trailers.
A terminal expansion would cost $17 million or more, McDavid said, based on a conceptual drawing completed in January by architectural firm Reynolds, Smith & Hills. He said the airport would need space for 300 people and three gates.
"We'll look at all sorts of funds — federal, local, state," McDavid said.
City officials and business leaders have been negotiating with American Airlines since January, McDavid said.
McDavid said that local Columbia businessman Tom Baumgardner, who died in May, introduced him to John Bachmann, a member of the board of American Airlines, in January, opening the door for negotiations.
"To have a loyal Columbian to get us in the room was very helpful," McDavid said.
The City Council will hold an open session at 5 p.m. Friday to discuss the flights, City Manager Mike Matthes said. At its meeting Monday, the council will read an ordinance for approving the agreement. The council will vote on it at a special meeting at 8 a.m. Oct. 22.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.