COLUMBIA — Delta Air Lines will no longer offer flights from the Columbia Regional Airport, beginning in February.
The Atlanta-based airline has rejected an offer from the city for a revenue guarantee in exchange for continuing its service between Columbia and Atlanta, Mayor Bob McDavid announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm disappointed they declined our revenue guarantee," McDavid said. "I was shocked by their bluntness."
McDavid said that on Oct. 17 he received a letter from Robert Cortelyou, a vice president at Delta, warning that the airline would end its flights to Columbia if it did not receive a revenue guarantee similar to the one the city offered to American Airlines in October, which included a $3 million revenue guarantee and an arrangement with Zimmer Radio to promote the new flights.
On Oct. 24, McDavid held a conference call with Delta representatives, City Manager Mike Matthes, MU Vice Chancellor Jackie Jones and Columbia Public Works Director John Glascock.
"We had a good, frank conversation," Matthes said.
On Nov. 2, the city sent Delta an offer, which included a $3 million guarantee spread over two years starting in 2014, a waiver of landing fees and an unspecified "advertising component." As part of the offer, Delta would have continued running twice-daily flights between Columbia and Atlanta. The deal also included a requirement that Delta switch from the CRJ200 planes they use now, which seat 52 people, to the larger CRJ900 model, which seats up to 76 people.
Delta turned down the offer in a phone call this morning, City Manager Mike Matthes said.
The $3 million revenue guarantee offered to Delta was a goal that the city would have tried to arrange, Matthes said. But neither the city nor local organizations had yet made pledges to a fund.
The revenue guarantee fund offered to American Airlines included pledges from 39 members of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the city of Columbia, Boone County, Jefferson City, Cole County and MU.
During negotiations for a new deal, Delta said it had been losing $900,000 a year on its flights to and from Columbia, McDavid said, which was a surprise to city officials.
McDavid said he was surprised when fares for Delta's one-way flights between Columbia and Atlanta increased after the American Airlines deal, which made the flights less competitive with those from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
After that, McDavid and other city officials thought Delta had already made the decision to end the flights.
"We think this is a decision that was made some time in the past," McDavid said.
On Expedia.com, flights between Columbia and Atlanta on Jan. 6 are priced at $431, while flights between St. Louis and Atlanta on the same date are $160.
McDavid said Delta's decision was a lesson in the difficulties facing small airports such as Columbia Regional Airport.
"Air service to markets like Mid-Missouri must be seen as fragile and be sought aggressively," McDavid said.
However, McDavid expressed optimism about the airport's future.
"I feel very good about our relationship with American Airlines and Frontier (Airlines)," he said, noting that the American Airlines flights starting in February will increase traffic through the airport to 182 passengers a day, an 80 percent increase over last year.
"We want to make sure those planes to Chicago and Dallas-Ft. Worth are full," McDavid said.