Saturday, July 29, 2017

United Airlines service takes off Tuesday: Columbia Regional Airport (KCOU)

Starting Tuesday, Columbia Regional Airport passengers will have a few additional flight options.

United Airlines will begin a daily flight to Denver International Airport and twice-daily flights to Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Aug. 1. Airport Manager Mike Parks said feedback the airline has received showed Denver was a desired location among the airport’s passengers.

“We always listen to the Mid-Missouri travelers for their needs and wants for additional destinations out of Columbia,” he said. “Denver is the gateway to the west. It opens up all travel to the west part of the country. It’s a highly demanded airport.”

American Airlines is the only airline currently serving the Columbia airport. City and United officials announced United’s plan to offer flights at the Columbia airport in February. Mayor Brian Treece at the time described the airport as a “catalyst” for Columbia’s economy.

He said adding Denver as a travel option at the airport will provide opportunities for people in Mid-Missouri to travel west and for others to directly fly to Columbia. That opens up more opportunities for people conducting business, traveling to Columbia for healthcare or for festivals and activities, he said. The city has boosted its efforts to be a medical tourism destination.

United Airlines is expected to bring in about 80,000 inbound and outbound passengers to Columbia Regional Airport each year. And, American Airlines -- currently the only airline serving the airport until Tuesday — is expected attract 145,000 passengers in 2017. That is a 14 percent increase over the airline’s passenger counts from last year.

The city’s proposed budget expects revenue from airport fees and services to increase from an estimated $903,842 in the current fiscal year to a proposed $1,155,569 next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.


The airport is celebrating the service to Denver with a ribbon cutting event Wednesday afternoon. Local officials will speak starting at 1:15 p.m. Parks said the airport has spent the past several months preparing for United and the increase in passengers it’s expected to bring. The airport added 258 parking spots, which makes the total parking available at 900 spots in the lots around the airport.

The airport also added about 62 extra seats inside, repurposing the former restaurant space upstairs to help add that seating.

“We’re continuing to work with United Airlines personnel at the airport and also working alongside the construction contractors that have been hired to do the work,” Parks said.

Parks said United has been finishing up its own preparations behind its counter area to ensure everything is in place for when flights take off next week. The airline also has spent this week wrapping up construction on its office space and counter space near the terminal.

The airline will use CRJ200 regional jet aircrafts that seat 50 people each, Andrew Bell, United Airlines sales manager for Missouri, previously told the Tribune.

American also offers flights to Chicago and United’s Chicago flights will provide more choices for passengers. Adding an additional airline is always good for passengers, Parks said, because it gives people more options.

“More options is something highly desirable for every passenger whether that is a leisure traveler or business traveler,” Parks said.

The city council approved a revenue guarantee as part of its incentive to lure United. The city also had a revenue guarantee agreement with American when it was establishing service in Columbia.

The revenue guarantee with United — of up to $600,000 — lasts one year. The agreement requires the city, other public agencies and private partners who contributed to the revenue guarantee to cover any revenue shortfall the airline experiences in its first year at the Columbia airport. After a year, any funds left from the $600,000 are distributed back to the donors who chipped in.

The city’s agreement with United also included the city spending $250,000 on marketing and promotional materials and for up to $125,000 in facility rent and fees to be waived.


The airport and city are working to add a new terminal at the Columbia Regional Airport. The project, from design through construction, is estimated to cost $38.1 million.

The city’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget also includes funds for the design of a new terminal complex. The state appropriated $2.5 million in its 2018 fiscal year budget. Stacey Button, the city’s economic development director, said the city estimates design work will cost about $2.7 million. The remaining $190,000 needed for the design will come from lodging tax revenue.

Voters last fall approved a 1 percent increase to the local motels tax, raising the rate from 4 to 5 percent. The 1 percent increase will go toward the new terminal project and is expected to bring in $10 million.

The Columbia Hospitality Association, whose members manage about half of the city’s more than 3,000 hotel rooms, spoke against the tax increase last summer. The group argued that the airport terminal is not a tourism project and the lodging tax was created to help promote tourism in central Missouri.

Some hotels have made tax payments “under protest” since the tax hike passed last fall. When a payment is made under protest, it is set aside for 90 days. If the entity which paid under protest does not file a lawsuit within those 90 days, the money is placed in the same city account as other lodging tax payments. So far, no legal action has been taken.

Aside from the lodging tax’s $10 million and the state’s $2.5 million, the city also is planning to apply for FAA funding. That funding source could provide up to $20 million for the new terminal project, which would include the terminal, parking and other improvements.

Button said the city hopes to apply for the federal funding this spring. However, she added that airport and city officials are still discussing the best timing for its application.

If the city receives that grant, Button said officials will need to identify other funding sources to make up the rest of the needed $38.1 million. There are no specific plans for those other sources yet. Button said officials need to first see how much FAA money the project receives so they know what funding gap needs to be filled.

The city’s proposed 2018 budget includes possible future bonds in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 related to the new terminal project.


The Columbia airport started offering services in 1928 at the location of what currently is Cosmo Park off Stadium Boulevard. The airport received improvements so that it could serve as an emergency landing field between Kansas City and St. Louis.

The airport was there until 1968. The National Airport Plan in 1962 recommended the city’s airport have a 5,300 foot runway, which would have been a 1,300 foot extension at the time, to accommodate a Convair CV340 plane. The property off Stadium left the airport landlocked and unable to make that extension. The city considered 23 sites before choosing the Highway H location.

The city council held a bond election in 1964 and a $3.5 million facility was approved in 1964. The city obtained the 183-acre site for the new airport in 1966 and it opened a couple years later. When the airport opened, it included a single 6,500 foot north to south runway, a full-length taxiway, runway lighting system, a road connecting to State Highway H and paved terminal apron.

The city paid off the bond in 1986. Since then, the airport has completed multiple capital improvement projects, including an air traffic control tower, hanger construction, tenant buildings, further land acquisition, road realignment, addition of fire-safety vehicles and several phases of apron expansion.

Aside from working toward the new terminal project, the airport has a slew of other capital improvement projects on its list. Currently, an ADA ramp is being constructed on the south side of the airport to make access easier. That should be completed by mid-August, Parks said.

Later this year, the airport will start work on Taxiway Charlie. A bid recently was awarded for work on that project. And, runway 1331 is being expanded by about 1,100 feet, while also shifting to the east.

“We’ve got a lot going on,” Parks said. “All good stuff.”

Over the years, the airlines serving the Columbia Regional Airport have shifted. Delta Air Lines left in 2013 after the city arranged to bring in American Airlines, offering the new airline a $3 million revenue guarantee. The city spoke with American Airlines as it was working with United Airlines to add its service. So far, Parks said there has been no tension and Treece previously has said both airlines recognize the competition as “ultimately good.”

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