With Frontier leaving Columbia, talks underway with other airlines

Friday, May 10, 2013 | 5:07 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA –With Frontier Airlines set to end its service at Columbia Regional Airport on Monday, the city continues discussions with other prospective air carriers.

"We don't have a commitment, but we are certainly talking to several different airlines," Public Works spokesman Steven Sapp said on Friday. "We are treating each airline equally, as long as they are able to provide safe air travel that is reliable and convenient destinations. We are certainly not smitten with any of them at this point."

Sapp said airlines the city was "chatting with" include United Airlines, Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

Sapp said bringing Delta Airlines back was a long shot.

"There is not a lot of interest from them right now," Sapp said. "The door is almost closed, just barely open. From our conversations, they don't have very much interest in expanding coverage to the Midwest at all." 

United and Southwest have expressed interest in the airport, Sapp said, especially as the latest load numbers from American Airlines, which offers daily flights to Dallas and Chicago, show flights are averaging 84 percent capacity.

Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes said in a Friday news conference that the city was in talks this week with two airlines. He declined requests to give specifics.

Adding United or Southwest Airlines would open new destinations across the country to travelers from Columbia, Sapp said. 

"Those two airlines provide air service to airports across the country," Sapp said. "We could literally fly to hundreds of destinations."

The top 10 destinations listed in the 2012 survey were: Denver, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Seattle, New York City, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale and Newark, N.J.

As city leaders continue to explore their options for a replacement air service provider, the Federal Aviation Agency announced on Friday that all 149 contracted airport control towers, including the one at Columbia Regional Airport, would remain staffed for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

This keeps control tower staff in the tower until at least Sept. 30, Sapp said. The FAA has not said what will happen to those towers after Oct. 1, according to a news release from the city.

While some would believe the tower's closure might have affected negotiations with air service providers, Sapp didn't believe that was the case. 

"I view these two things as completely different issues," Sapp said. "Ultimately, what we have done is to show the airline industry that there is a market for air travel in mid-Missouri." 

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