TARGET 8: Data supports need for airport expansion
COLUMBIA - At the Columbia Regional Airport travelers can typically park their car for free, check in at the counter, hit the vending machine, and make it through security with ease. However, that process is becoming cramped and complicated as more and more passengers choose to fly locally.
Recently there's been a lot of buzz surrounding the future of the airport. KOMU 8 News took a look at the numbers to find out if an expansion and other improvements are needed, as supporters argue. The data points to yes.
Greg Cecil, a member of the Airport Advisory Board who has been working alongside city leaders to create a vision for the future of the airport, said, "We have some plans for runway improvements right now and some of them are underway. We look for that to be a real positive because we'll be lengthening the main runway and lengthening and widening our cross runway so it will be able to accommodate planes easier. We'd like to get a new terminal, I think it's something we really need," he said.
The current terminal has served passengers since 1969 and has received only minor updates over the years.
"We're looking to have a better facility because it says a lot about who we are as a community and if somebody flies into the community and has a bad experience or looks at our terminal we're going to be judged by that," Cecil said. "Some people say 'oh no it doesn't matter and airlines are going to fly to any terminal that's out there' and that's possibly true, but image is huge and it's not just about image but also about accommodating more passengers."
Cecil said the space inside the current terminal is becoming tight, especially since American Airlines started flying the larger 65 passenger planes in and out of Columbia.
The graphics below show increasing traffic and passenger volume.
Current numbers indicate that the same number of people fly in to Columbia as out of at the airport. Some believe an expansion at the airport could mean that more people visit the mid-Missouri area.
"From a tourism stand point, people come in whether it's on a plane or in a car. They're not just staying in our hotels, they're also eating at our restaurants, shopping in our stores. If they're here in a car they're filling up with gas and shopping at everything from a big box store down to somewhere in the district that is a boutique, so that really helps create jobs, helps sustain jobs, and helps put a lot of sales tax revenue back into the Columbia economy," said Visitors Bureau Communications Manager Megan McConachie.
A larger airport also makes sense for Columbia's largest employer, the University of Missouri.
University spokesperson Christian Basi said, "It is something that helps us with recruiting, it's an easy way to get people in to Columbia. It also does help us, especially when recruiting students from Dallas and Chicago and it is also helpful to point out for our research faculty that we are recruiting because very often they are looking for reliable air service based on their collaborations or research projects or other factors,"
The City of Columbia is collaborating with Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. which is in the process of surveying possibilities and creating a Terminal Area Master Plan and Airport Plan Layout Update.
Cecil said, "We're moving ahead and things are positive. You know there are some nay-sayers out there but our planes are full and we have newer planes than we have in a long time. This is a positive thing for the Central Missouri area. You know we, as Columbia, are like the leading community in the area, and we're the biggest community, so we need to carry that mantle. Without a strong airport we're not going to be able to achieve the economic goals that we wish to achieve."
While there is no current time frame for the updates to begin, Cecil said the construction of the runways should be finished within two years and other construction would begin after that.