Mid-Missourians Skeptical About Airport Viability

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COLUMBIA - The city of Columbia is in the midst expanding Columbia Regional Airport- a project that could cost the city $16 million. The city cites several reasons for the need.

City manager Mike Matthes says renovating and expanding the airport is important for the city's economy.

"The airport can conveniently bring in people from all over the world to our city," Matthes said. "We need to renovate it to open it up to more flights."

Currently the airport only offers commercial flights to Memphis via Delta Airlines, three each day and two on Saturday with each plane holding 50 passengers. On March 2, however, the airport and Delta announced the mid-afternoon flight would instead fly to Atlanta, Delta's main hub. The city is also optimistic it can lure a second carrier- be it American Airlines, Continental Airlines or US Airways- to the airport because of an expansion.

Not everyone is on board with the multi-million dollar project, though.

Columbia resident Frank La Mantia says the city shouldn't follow the "if you build it, they will come" approach.

"This airport isn't as viable as St. Louis or Kansas City," he said. "The city shouldn't spend any more money, they are already having a hard enough time with funds, unless they get the word from another airline that they will come here. They shouldn't build it and wait."

The airport is currently not up to A-D-A regulations- there is no elevator or ramp to the airport restaurant. Part of the runway is also in a state of disrepair. One frequent flyer says he would more likely fly out of an airport with more amenities.

"I'd much rather fly out of an airport with bigger planes and more amenities," Mark D. Pierce said. "As a businessman, I like to have nicer airports. I'm not too impressed by this one."

Another concern is the more expensive flights out of the airport.

"They can bring all the flights they want into Columbia," La Mantia said, "but if the prices are still much higher, as they are now, I'd much rather fly out of St. Louis or Kansas City."

City officials say the prices are high now because the small number of flights increases demand.

"There is such a great demand for these flights," Matthes said. "Every flight is almost completely full almost every day."

The numbers tell a different story.

According to Delta Airlines, flights out of the airport are currently about 62 percent full (which comes up to a little more than 100 passengers per day) - far short of the city's decree that flights were almost completely at capacity.

Some local farmers who live around the airport are upset about the lack of communication about the expansion.

Judy Gibson lives on the north side of the airport and is worried the city could take her land. She says she is constantly frustrated by the city's lack of communication with her.

"The city sends me around and doesn't tell me anything," Gibson said. "I have no idea if they want to take part of my land. The thing that makes me mad is that they won't tell me and are leaving me in the dark."

Jean Bumgartner says the city took part of her family's land when the airport opened in the 1960s.

"I haven't heard anything about the city trying to take my land," she said.

In past years, the airport has seen Trans States Airlines, American Connection, US Airways Connection and Northwest Airlines come and go from the airport.