Unlike most of you, my experience with Columbia Regional Airport is not limited to the Veteran’s Salute Air Show and trying to catch a ride on Mesa Air to St. Louis or Kansas City. As of May 16, I am the newest member of the Airport Advisory Board. It says so on the Certificate of Commission signed by Darwin.
My background in aviation is extensive and interesting. I learned to fly when my dad threw me in a Piper Cub when I was 8 years old. My first flight instructor was Ed Lyons, who, in 1948, started the Israeli Air Force. I received my pilot’s license in New York City three months before I could drive and graduated from Parks College of Aeronautical Technology at St. Louis University. If it flies, I can tell you about it.
I submitted my application for the Advisory Board for two reasons. The first is the need to do something now. Though the Visioning exercise is good, it will take too long to implement. Now is when the airport needs help.
The second is the misunderstanding by the public and Columbia’s Visioning Committee on Economics of what the airport means to Columbia, Boone County and mid-Missouri. The airport will not survive solely as a commercial airport, but as the major general aviation facility in central Missouri.
What is general aviation? It includes all of the operations once you discount the military operations and the Mesa Air flights. This includes UPS, DHL and FedEx air cargo carriers, air charter and air taxi services, the air ambulance attached to University and Boone County hospitals and, of course, corporate and personal jets, turbine and piston airplanes.
The Visioning team and the citizens of this city are focusing on flying to Dallas and Chicago. The probability of that happening is unbelievably small, and if it did happen, unbelievably expensive. Even if flights were scheduled from Midway and Dallas Love fields, the obstacles would be unbelievable.
There would have to be agreements with another airline to rent gate space and the personnel to stand watch, collect tickets and check baggage. Baggage loading and unloading need to be arranged and fees paid. Open arrivals and departures slots would be limited and must be arranged with the FAA, if available, and fees paid. Schedules would be subject to someone else’s schedule, not the wants and needs of those in the middle of Middle-America. It just costs too much and the region could not fill enough seats to break even.
General aviation opens more than 19,000 possible destinations throughout the U.S. from Columbia by air. Departure and arrival time are dictated by the traveler’s convenience, not by an airline’s limited schedule. Furthermore, most general aviation airports are closer to the desired final destination than the large commercial airports, requiring overall less travel time.
Columbia must punctuate economic advantage of this vital link to the world, the access to and from the middle of Middle America by air. Our regional airport needs to be added as a major asset in MU, Stephens College and Columbia College recruiting brochures. We need to sell the central location of Columbia, access by air and land, when reaching out to new business. We need to promote general aviation and expand the availability of services at the airport. We need to designate the lands surrounding it as the new Central Missouri Industrial and Technology Park.
We must look at cities with successful airport economic models, like the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport and Denver’s Rocky Mountain Air Park and Centennial Airport, Florida’s Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale’s Executive airports. All with industrial zones, all successful and all having a positive economic impact on their cities and regions.
We can no longer live on false hopes and dreams of an airline in shining aluminum saving Columbia Regional Airport. We must create our own opportunities and use the airport and the surrounding properties to our economic advantage. We must create a new vision, give it wings and fly.
David Rosman is a Columbia resident who teaches at Columbia College.