Getting the Columbus Metropolitan Airport back up to speed can have a huge economic impact on the Columbus-Phenix City- Fort Benning area.
Before 9-11 had its devastating impact on the airline industry, Columbus had Atlantic Southeast Airlines, U.S. Airways Express, American Eagle, and Northwest Airways. With direct flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis and Nashville, about 250,000 people were flying in and out of Columbus a year. Now, with only ASA still operating in Columbus, there are about 100,000.
ASA-Delta Connection jet at Columbus Metropolitan Airport, Columbus, GA
Airport Director Mark Oropeza tells me each airline can generate a $38 million impact on the community. He also tells me that he and the airport commission are working on getting more airlines to come back to Columbus.
Mark Oropeza, Airport Director, Columbus Metropolitan Airport, Columbus, GA
Recently, he attended a Jump Start Conference in Canada. Representatives from all of the major airlines were there to hear pitches from different communities seeking to attract them to serve their airports. “You only get 20 minutes to convince the airlines that they need to hear a longer and more involved presenation at a later date,” he told me. Turns out he was successful in getting future sessions lined up with American Eagle, American Airlines regional service; U.S. Airways; and Delta. ”
Why Delta,” I asked. “you already have ASA service, which is the Delta Connection.”
“We want Delta to put some larger planes in service in Columbus. You know, DC-9’s. The ASA flights would continue, but those planes only carry 50 passengers. Fort Benning would be flying more people out of here if we had those larger planes. On weekends they are filling up ASA flights and having to put the overflow on chartered buses to the Atlanta Airport. Benning officials tell me they will use our airport as long as it is cost effective.”
“So you think you will have enough traffic to justify Delta’s flying DC-9’s here again?”
“Absolutely. We’ll be meeting with Delta soon and a Fort Benning representative will also attend that meeting.”
What will landing American Eagle do for the airport?
“It will connect us directly with Dallas, American Airlines hub.”
He said American is interested and will hold a future meeting for Columbus to make a longer presentation. But, he said American wants a first year guarantee. If business doesn’t generate enough money to pay for the service, they want the airport to make up the difference. Mark says he is working on raising the money for that guarantee.
If he can get U.S Airways Express to serve Columbus again, it will provide a direct flight to the Charlotte hub. They are interested, but have a problem: not enough airplanes. They would have to either buy some more or shift flights from less profitable cities.
What about the reliability problem? A lot of businesses and individuals stopped flying out of Columbus because of too many delays and cancelled flights. Mark says he discovered why that happened, and that he has basically corrected the problem. More on that coming up. Stay tuned.