Airport could offer Chicago flights

Nonstop flights between Columbia Regional Airport and America's second-busiest airport, O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, are the subject of preliminary discussions between officials at MU and surrounding cities, Columbia spokeswoman Toni Messina said.

The Associated Press reported on Aug. 29 that plans call for a $2 million incentive package with MU and Columbia contributing $700,000 each.

Messina and MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said nothing has been decided yet, and they have no figures to estimate.

"They haven't gotten to that point," Banken said. "They're just in the early talks."

Banken said the university is interested in adding flights to the airport.

"We are interested in working with the city to assure improved air service to Columbia," she said. "It would be beneficial for our students, staff and faculty. However, nothing definitive has been decided. Early discussions have occurred."

Messina said additional flights to hub cities, which passengers could either arrive at for tourist destinations or could connect to other flights, would appeal to more customers in the area.

"These places are likely to be more attractive for passengers," she said. "There's lots to do. There are business opportunities. Airports in hub cities connect to a wider area and provide more opportunities."

Students in particular would benefit from the flights, Messina said.

"This would be helpful to students, who can go back and forth home using any of these airports," she said.

Chicago Department of Aviation Spokeswoman Karen Pride said O'Hare hasn't received any proposals for flights to or from Columbia, but any additional flights would help generate revenue for the airlines.

The Columbia Regional Airport offers flights only to and from Kansas City, following a flight schedule change Wednesday that ended all flights to and from St. Louis. The change followed a decline in overall passenger traffic in the airport.

Messina attributes the decline to the unreliability of a previous air carrier, whose cancellations became too inconvenient for passengers.

"Airlines aren't going to do business if they can't get customers," Messina said. "Flying to Kansas City is better than not flying anywhere."

At this point, neither Messina nor Banken knows if or when discussions will generate a formal proposal.

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