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Controversy at Columbia Airport

***UPDATE SATURDAY 8:30 P.M.***Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes told ABC 17 News Saturday the city is meeting with Delta next week to discuss the airline’s concerns over a proposed revenue guarantee to their competitor American Airlines for flights out of Columbia Regional Airport.”We value the history we have with Delta and we are meeting with them on Wednesday to make sure we understand their concerns and we will do everything we can to preserve the service to Atlanta.,” said Matthes. “We know that it’s greatly valued by the community and we know the planes are full so I think we can maintain a positive relationship moving forward.”Matthes reiterated that the American Airlines revenue guarantee, valued at about $3 million, would only be paid out if that airline didn’t make a profit in either of its first two years.A special city council meeting is still scheduled for Monday morning, but a formal news conference afterward has been cancelled because American Airlines executives had prior commitments.***ORIGINAL STORY***As big promises hang in the balance at Columbia Regional Airport, big controversy is now emerging. Delta Airlines says the company is threatening to pull its current flights from the airport because they have discovered details of the deal city leaders are brokering with competitors. Columbia officials have offered American Airlines a $3 million guarantee to lure the carrier to the local airport. Those city leaders are saying, Friday night, that Delta is not going anywhere. The City Council is slated to pass the revenue incentive for American Airlines on Monday, which guarantees the company will make a profit in its first two years in Columbia — and that money could come out of tax payers’ pockets. Leaders want to American Airlines to bring flights to and from Chicago and Dallas. Delta has been serving mid-Missouri since 2008, and learned via media reports about the sweetheart deal offered to American last week. In a strongly worded letter from their senior vice president of network planning, Delta stated, “this is unacceptable,” and requested the same guarantee. When ABC 17 News brought that letter to Columbia’s Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Chairman Don Laird said, “We’ll take it at face value. We feel that there’s a good market here… Delta has done well here.” The Chamber of Commerce has helped get private businesses to pitch in to help fund the revenue guarantee that other carriers, like Delta and Frontier are not getting. When asked why the other airlines are not receiving the same deal, Laird responded, “they’re flying 80 to 90 percent full right now, and their concern that it will impact them… I don’t think it will. It’s a different market; they’ll continue to do well.” Funding for the two-year revenue guarantee would come from multiple sources: * Boone County and the University of Missouri will pitch in $500,000 each * Jefferson City and Cole County will each contribute $100,000 * Columbia will finance the remaining $1.8 million Between the different institutions that put up the money and private businesses, we feel that it’s a good bet, and that the market’s there and that they will not need to tap into the revenue guarantee,” Laird said Friday. “We don’t want them to tap into the revenue guarantee, nor do they,” he added. “They want to make money from day one. We hope that’s possible.” City leaders say they believe a strong market exists in Columbia, and as long as flight capacity reaches about 80% they do not anticipate needing to pay American Airlines. Council members are expected to approve the deal with American in Monday’s regular council meeting. A news conference scheduled with American Airlines was canceled, and we still do not have word on when the company will make a formal announcement regarding future air service.

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