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Mid-Missouri Offers $3M for Expanded Air Service

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Getty/Scott Olson

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The city of Columbia and some mid-Missouri partners are taking a $3 million bet that enough local airline passengers are tired of driving to St. Louis or Kansas City to catch flights.

The money is needed to convince American Airlines to add two daily nonstop flights between Columbia Regional Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth, and one daily nonstop route to Chicago O’Hare on 50-seat regional passenger jets, starting in mid-February.

The city also plans to waive two years of landing fees and facility rents, valued at $250,000, and chip in $400,000 worth of free advertising through a deal with Zimmer Radio Group, according to a proposed contract released Friday.

“We have to be prepared to spend it,” said Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes. “That’s what it’s there for. But that said, we don’t want to spend it.”

Columbia is leading the effort with a $1.2 million contribution to the revenue shortfall fund. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce has pledged $600,000, with Boone County and the University of Missouri each offering $500,000. Cole County and Jefferson City have each pledged $100,000.

The airport is now served only by Delta Air Lines, which in June added daily nonstop flights to Atlanta, but decided one month later to phase out flights through Memphis, Tenn.

Until 2010, when Delta added limited jet service through the Tennessee city, it had been a decade since Columbia passengers could travel on bigger planes on now-defunct Ozark Airlines, which offered flights to Chicago and Dallas.

In November, Frontier Airlines will begin offering twice-weekly flights to Orlando, Fla., on 138-seat jets.

The expanded service will likely make for more crowded waits in the airport’s lone terminal, Matthes acknowledged. The city plans to triple capacity of the airport’s 50-person waiting room by relocating the baggage terminal to a double-wide trailer.

The next move? A more significant terminal expansion and renovation at the airport south of Columbia. The city estimates that will cost at least $17 million and require voter approval of its financing, the manager said. That project remains several years away, Matthes said.

“It’s absolutely a stopgap measure,” he said, referring to the coming airport trailer. “Once we have this deal consummated, then we shift into a scenario for the terminal.”

The Columbia City Council is scheduled to discuss the air service guarantee contract at its Monday meeting, with a vote set for Oct. 22. The agreement stipulates a guarantee of $4,403 per flight to or from Chicago and $5,010 for each flight to or from Dallas.

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Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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