Columbia Regional Airport could add two flights to Chicago, Dallas

Flights are down by more than 30,000 since 1972.
The Columbia Regional Airport announced that in the coming year flights will depart from Columbia to Chicago and Dallas. This decision directly affects the large population of students who come from these cities and depend on long car rides or multiple flights to return home.

Traveling back and forth from Chicago and Dallas to Columbia might get easier for MU students in February. Mayor Bob McDavid announced Thursday that Columbia Regional Airport is in the process of adding flights to both cities beginning in February.

“The airport pumps money into the city,” McDavid said. “We realized we needed to use it or lose it. We could be caught losing the airport in Columbia.”

The city has been in ongoing negotiations with American Airlines for eight months, McDavid said.

If the proposal passes, American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, will start operating two flights to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and one flight to Chicago O’Hare International Airport daily. Each flight will hold no more than 50 passengers.

“I think it’s an extremely positive move for the city,” Columbia Chamber of Commerce President Don Laird said. “It’s something that’s been crafted well and most people in the community see it needed.”

To ensure American Airlines' profit, a revenue-guarantee fund has been formed with city officials and the Chamber of Commerce. McDavid said more than $3 million has been committed to an escrow fund, including $600,000 from 39 area businesses.

“If everything goes perfect, everyone gets money back in two years,” McDavid said.

According to this year's enrollment data, 4,268 students from Illinois and 814 students from Texas are enrolled at MU. This accounts for 12.3 and 2.3 percent of the student population, respectively.

With the possibility of additional flights being added, students might have a quicker way to travel between home and MU.

“I usually fly from Dallas to Kansas City, because before there have not been any direct flights from Dallas to Columbia,” freshman Yasmine Mavrakis said. “Usually I have to rent a car or take an airport shuttle to and from Columbia from the Kansas City airport, which is an additional expense and inconvenience. I will definitely take advantage of any direct Dallas to Columbia flights in the future because of the convenience."

This is not the first time Columbia Regional has announced additional flights. Starting Nov. 20, Frontier Airlines will begin flights to Orlando, Fla., twice a week. In July, the airport announced twice-daily flights to Atlanta, Ga.

“We spend $1.5 million on the airport," McDavid said. "If we're going to spend that kind of money, we might as well have airplanes. There is a need. We have a lot of people that are willing to spend an extra $30 or $40 to fly from Columbia.”

Despite the additional flights, Columbia MO-X owner Norman Ruebling said he doesn’t fear a large drop-off of business.

“Our frequency is good, our service is cheap and we pick you up from your home," Ruebling said.

Airport manager Don Elliot said he is optimistic about how the plan can impact the airport.

“Maybe this will get us back to where we were back in 1979 with 70,000 passengers a year," Elliot said. "Now we have about 40,000."

Columbia City Council will host a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday to vote on the ordinance.

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