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City disputes sixth-worst airport ranking

A high percentage of flight cancellations for its traffic volume caused Columbia Regional Airport to rank sixth-worst in a new travel study.

Planning site Travelmath released its findings earlier this week on the best, and worst, airports in the country. The site said it ranked the airports based on the percentage of flights delayed, amount of time delayed and flights cancelled from the start of 2015 to the end of August. Columbia Regional Airport boasted a 5.98-percent cancellation rate, despite landing in the smallest flight volume category (1-999 flights).

Public Works Department spokesman Steve Sapp acknowledged the high cancellation rate in that period. The cancellations, for both arrivals and departures, break down as follows:

January: 7

February: 26

March: 20

April: 6

May: 15

June: 16

July: 3

August: 9

September: 2

October: 0

Including the months of September and October brings COU’s cancellation rate down to 4.3% so far in 2015.

“From the airport’s perspective, it’s not something that the city of Columbia or Columbia Regional Airport have a lot of control over,” Sapp said of the numbers. “Because delays are either weather-related, pilot rest related or mechanical.”

Sapp cited poor flying weather in February and March, where the Midwest experienced heavy snow and freezing rains grounded planes in Dallas – areas that COU exclusively serves. It’s ultimately up to the airline to cancel a flight, Sapp said, based on weather or any other circumstance.

“We do understand how the impacts passengers wanting to use Columbia Regional Airport,” Sapp said. “And we don’t like having those cancellation numbers. But on the other hand, there’s nothing really that we can physically do to fix that.”

Public Works does plan on extending and expanding the runway at COU by 2018. Sapp said this will allow for larger passenger planes to utilize the airport. Currently, American Airlines, the only airline operating with COU, uses its 50-passenger planes to fly to and from St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago and Dallas. A consulting firm is also studying the department’s use of the terminal space to decide if there are more efficient ways to operate there. Sapp said these changes could help attract more airlines, as well as allow airlines more opportunities to re-route flights in the event of a cancellation.

“We think all these things that we’re doing to improve Columbia Regional Airport’s infrastructure and passenger experience is going to pay off big dividends,” Sapp said.

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