Board wants city to expand flights

Regular flights to Dallas and Chicago are recommended.
Thursday, June 7, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

People should be able to fly directly to Chicago and Dallas from Columbia, members of the Airport Advisory Board said Wednesday, and they voted to recommend the City Council seek airlines willing to provide the flights.

The advisory board wants the council to issue a formal request for interest to appropriate airlines that would outline the specific desired service in and out of Columbia. The airlines would then issue cost estimates for the additional flights. The board offered no time line for when the requests should occur.

Airport manager Kathy Frerking said the city has been interested in additional flights at Columbia Regional Airport for years. City Manager Bill Watkins has been a vocal advocate of flights to Chicago and Dallas.

“The city has definitely been interested in more air service,” Frerking said.

That interest comes even as U.S. Airways Express is preparing to eliminate flights to St. Louis and to fly solely to Kansas City as of July 8. U.S. Airways Express will provide 24 round-trip flights to Kansas City per week, using a code share with Midwest Airlines, and eliminate service to St. Louis after many of those were delayed or canceled and the number of passengers decreased.

Frerking said the airport hired consultant Mead and Hunt in March 2006 to create an analysis of passenger demand to determine desirable destinations for Columbia-area passengers.

“We’ve been working through the consultant to talk with the airlines,” Frerking said. “Airlines are interested in Columbia, and potential is there.”

B.J. Hunter, chairman of the Airport Advisory Board, said the effort to add flights to Columbia is ongoing, and he is optimistic about getting flights to Dallas and to Chicago-Midway. Flights to Chicago-O’Hare are doubtful, he said, because of the limited availability of landing slots.

“This is just kick-starting the process,” Hunter said of the push for requests for interest, adding that if the move eventually results in an airline offering flights to Chicago and/or Dallas, the city probably would need to find donors to help cover the costs of those flights. Hunter said there is only a slim chance that an airline would offer such flights without passenger guarantees.

The board also recommended a request for the development of 10 T-hangars for small, private general aviation aircraft.

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