City Council candidates discuss ideas for Columbia Regional Airport

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missourian reporters asked candidates for seats on the Columbia City Council nine standardized questions about city government issues. Here are their verbatim answers to a question about Columbia Regional Airport. 

What do you believe should be the city's next steps, if any, to improve service and facilities at Columbia Regional Airport?

Mayoral candidates

Bob McDavid: "We're embarked in a very aggressive campaign we call '40 in 2020.' We want to have 40 percent of our flying public in this area flying out of Columbia Regional Airport by 2020, the year 2020. That would be 500 passengers a day. We’re off to a good start. It’s a challenging problem because air service is fragile. We all saw how quickly Delta left this market. Airlines leave markets all the time. We have a great relationship with American Airlines right now. We put together a broadly based, multi-jurisdictional, multi-party agreement to get them here. They’re here, we've got flights to Chicago and Dallas, the flights are full, the bookings are high, and we’re going to keep marketing this, keep pushing this. We want multiple flights to Chicago, multiple flights to Dallas, and then once we achieve that, we want to extend to other destinations, and then we need a new terminal."

Sid Sullivan: "Probably the next step should be to try to increase the demand. Right now Columbia has an 8 percent market share, which means we have a little over 100 passengers a day that pass through there. And if we're going to survive the next cut of the airlines, we'll have to get to about 500 passengers a day. So before we start investing in an airport and then find out we don't have an airline to service that, we really need to work on increasing the demand there and increasing the demand in terms of attracting more people from central Missouri to use that airport, other kinds of events here in Columbia that would bring people in. Unless we can increase that demand, it's very risky to make the $50 million investment that's required to upgrade the airport."

Third Ward candidates

Karl Skala: "Well, I think that we ought to take a very measured and functional approach to air traffic. Obviously, we’re filling lots of seats with our service. I think we could probably attract more service and better service, but we actually do need to update our terminal. I’m not one of those who suggests that we go the Cadillac approach and spend a lot of money on that. There are estimates all the way from $17 million to $127 million. We simply don’t have that kind of money, but we ought to update the facility so that it’s an attractive place, very functional, and be very prudent with taxpayer dollars in terms of what our airport presents to the air traveler."

Gary Kespohl: "My feeling is that we have three flights a day. So, a town our size, I'm comparing it to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has 19 flights a day. But they have a better terminal than we have. I think the secret to getting planes to come in, of course, is ridership, and we're doing real well on ridership, but I think we've got to enhance our terminal so we can handle more than one flight at a time."

Fourth Ward candidates

Daryl Dudley: "We need to get airlines coming in. We need, because of ADA and other rules and restrictions from TSA, we have to make changes to the terminal. Those changes are going to cost money. We have been talking about a $17 million upgrade to the terminal. Does it have to be $17 million? Absolutely not. But we do need to make it ADA-compliant, we need to make it so that it’s convenient for people to come in and (go) out on the airplanes, and we need to make it so when people fly in from out of town, they don’t see what we have now. It’s kind of run-down, it’s pushed together, and it’s very tight inside the airport, in the terminal. We need to fix that up. And then we need to get more airlines coming in, more flights going in and out every day. And the pricing needs to be such that people will want to come in and out of Columbia rather than driving to Kansas City or St. Louis."

Ian Thomas: "I support the mayor’s efforts to bring in new airlines and expand our air traffic. It’s a great convenience to have the airport there. I’m actually going to be using it myself and flying up to Chicago just right after the election. And nobody likes that long car journey or bus journey from St. Louis or Kansas City when you’re arriving back to Columbia. Having said that, I’m a little concerned that with the incentives offered to American Airlines, Delta departed, Frontier’s also departed. There seem to be some kind of, you know, shifts going on in the national and international airline business, and I would be reluctant to invest a lot of public money in additional incentives or in the terminal. I think some improvements at the terminal are needed right now, but not a multi-, you know, many-tens-of-millions-of-dollars new terminal just yet."

Bill Weitkemper: "Well, the airport terminal should obviously be made ADA accessible. That can be done for a lot less than $17 million. They ought to explore making it a rezone, ownership rezone, ownership…try to get the university involved in ownership, other communities, then make it a truly a regionally owned airport. I also think that we’d be a lot better off if the mayor would stay out of the picture and let the professional staff manage the airport. I was not in favor of the guarantees that he gave to first American and Delta. That shouldn’t have ever been done."

Missourian reporters Hannah Cushman, Elizabeth Pearl, Tony Puricelli, Madeline O'Leary, Chris Jasper, Allison Prang and Nuria Mathog contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

To hear audio clips from the candidates, go to the Missourian's local government blog, The Watchword.

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