Columbia Regional Airport expansion plans still on hold

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COLUMBIA -It's been at least two years since Columbia Regional Airport started plans for expansion.

But according to at least one airport official, it's going to take even more time.

Greg Cecil, Chair of Columbia Regional Airport Advisory Board, said these processes are drawn out. 

"Studies have to be done," Cecil said. "The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] requires that we do a study. We had to do it for the runways. We had to do it for the terminal." 

Cecil said when they did the last master plan study, they looked at the terminal but focused more on the runways. He said if they're going to build a new terminal, they have to have a master plan study done for that. 

"So, that takes about a year," Cecil said. "Then, it took us about a year to get the funding, so these are very, very slow projects. And then, the funding is also only allocated as you're able to spend it. So, the projects are phased in." 

When asked why the new terminal is taking so long, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said the city council is working alongside the airport to help get a budget for the expansion.

"We have been moving forward to the extent that we could," Skala said. "Obviously, this is a rather expensive proposition and we have taken measures in terms of trying to increase the Convention & Visitors Bureau hotel tax and the bed tax to help with this. So in fact, the expense of it means that it's going to be kind of a long-term investment."

Skala said they are working with the federal government to extend the runways and this has to fit in with that adjustment as well. He said it's the kind of thing that takes long range planning. 

"Well, I would say the terminal is probably not going to get built for a couple of years anyway," Cecil said. "Because, it will take two years to build it. And, we have to figure out funding. And, so, if we put something on the ballot, because if we were looking for funding for the airport, it's going to require an election if we take the route of the hotel and bed tax. So, that would probably not be happening until August. And so then we have to figure out what it's going to cost, but hopefully by that time we will have some concrete figures from the engineering firm that will know what the actual cost is going to be." 

Both Cecil and Skala hope the new terminal will be done within the next five years.