UPDATE: Airport says runway is safe; airlines temporarily suspend operations

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COLUMBIA - Columbia Regional Airport will host a conference call with City of Columbia staff, FAA officials and airline partners Monday to discuss regional carriers' concerns that led to them canceling flights over the weekend.

"We sincerely apologize for the angst and frustration this situation has caused. Additional information will be shared as soon as it’s available," the statement said.

Columbia Regional Airport insisted on Saturday night that its only working runway is safe. This response came after American Airlines joined SkyWest, a United affiliate, in temporarily suspending flights to and from COU.

In a statement to KOMU 8 News at 9 p.m. on Saturday, American said its flights are canceled through Monday.

Columbia Interim City Manager John Glascock released a statement Sunday apologizing for the flight cancellations.

"As part of our ongoing discussions with the airlines, they have indicated that they are concerned about the "crown" on runway 2-20 where it intersects runway 13-31. The crown is required by the FAA in all main runways to assist with water draining off of the runway, much like a road is crowned to assist in draining water," Glascock said. "This crown can cause the feeling of hitting a bump during takeoff/landing."

Glascock said neither the airlines nor the airport's partners voiced any concerns about the runway while planning for the main runway maintenance project.

Glascock said he's bringing solutions to an airport meeting.

"I have personally inspected the runway and discussed potential resolutions with engineers from Burns & McDonnell and provided my professional suggestions as a civil engineer to remove or reduce this crown during the time runway 13-31 is operating as COU’s primary runway. We will discuss those options with the airlines and the FAA on Monday morning," he said.

"You will need to speak to the airport for more details, but it is due to a runway issue," the airline said.

A few hours earlier, SkyWest told KOMU 8 News the problem stems from a recently begun construction project at the airport. The primary runway is closed for maintenance and runway 13-31 is being used as a back up. 

"SkyWest, which operates United Express flights at the airport, has temporarily suspended operations due to current runway conditions," SkyWest said.
The airport posted a response to its Facebook page, saying, "COU wants to assure passengers that runway 13-31 is an FAA certified 'part 139 runway' and is safe and compliant.

There had been a string of delays and cancelations since Thursday.

Dozens of passengers posted to COU's Facebook page complaining about the situation. Some said they heard directly from pilots or other sources that the runway was in poor condition. Others complained of extraordinarily bumpy takeoffs and landings.

The airport on Friday blamed poor weather conditions.

Several people on the Facebook page said they were told standing water on the runway was a problem after recent rains. One traveler said they were told the plane wouldn't be full because extra weight would cause issues with a short runaway.

In its Saturday statement, the airport said, "COU staff and external engineers met with the airlines on several occasions prior to the runway maintenance taking place and they did not indicate any issues with using runway 13-31 in the interim."

SkyWest said it hopes for a solution soon.

"We are working closely with the airport to ensure the necessary adjustments are made to resume operations as soon as possible," the airline's statement said.

Air Wisconsin, which operates some of the United Express flights at the airport, had not canceled its flights as of Saturday evening.

(Jacob Cavaiani, Alayna Chapie and Melody Cox contributed to this report.)

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