People Expect More From Columbia Regional Airport

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COLUMBIA - A report from Columbia Regional Airport earlier this year showed more passengers flew in and out of Columbia in 2010 than any year since 1994.

Tom Barron is one of those passengers. He flew with his family to Columbia Regional Airport from Greensboro, North Carolina. He and his family spent a week at the Lake of the Ozarks for a vacation.

"This is the closest airport we could find to where we wanted to be," Barron said.

He said he chose the airport because it is convenient for his family and the price is reasonable.

"We have round trip tickets and it was just a little under $300 a person," Barron said.

They rented a car to drive from the airport to the Lake of the Ozarks.

For passengers like Barron, the airport is close to their destination with sometimes low airfares and free parking. However, not everyone finds the Columbia airport convenient.

The airport now has Delta Airlines as its only service provider, with three round trips Sunday through Friday and two on Saturdays. Memphis is the only non-stop destination from the airport.

Due to the limited flight options the airport offers, many people choose to drive to St Louis or Kansas City to fly from there.

Passenger Tim Goble went to the St. Louis airport to fly to Columbus, Ohio. He said he always drives himself or takes MO-X to the big city airports because their schedules are more flexible for him.

"Driving on my own time or wait for a shuttle, and compared to going to the airport here in Columbia, I feel they don't offer enough flights," Goble explained.

Goble doesn't have to worry about high gas prices because his work reimburses him for travel.

He can also take a non-stop flight out of St. Louis to the place he needs to go, something he cannot get in Columbia.

Others hope the local airport makes improvements.

Jessica Fox is originally from Columbia but now lives in Boston with her family. She flew into Columbia's airport last month for the first time in 15 years, but she said she didn't see any big changes except for the security scan in the terminal.

"I wish they could make it a little more inexpensive flying here, because it's a hassle to fly from St. Louis or Kansa City, and to drive two and half hours," Fox said.

Stormy Anderson is a passenger who uses the airport frequently, and she hopes others will do the same.

"Our community needs to support the airport and use it more, so that they will have the finances to make further improvements for the inside, to open up different stores, to have gift shop and all those kinds of things. But if you don't have people coming in, there is no reason to have all those services," Anderson said.

Delta upgraded its jets last spring and now carries up to 50 passengers at a time. More than 35,000 people flew in or out of Columbia Regional Airport last year, the highest year in 17 years. In 2009, that number was about 24,800.

The airport manager Andrew Schineider said the airport is also trying to persuade Delta to offer more direct destinations.

"We may be able to enter other markets, like Minneapolis and Detroit, or Atlanta, possibly. It really depends on what the airline wants to do, and we try to persuade them, and see what our demand is," Schineider said.

MoDot is also planning a new interchange on Highway 63 that will give people easier access to the airport. Officials said they plan to start the construction on August 8th and will be finished in November 2012.