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Officials focus on bright side of runway closure

City and airport officials treated the recent shutdown of the Columbia Regional Airport runway with optimism Thursday, saying the way the city handled the problem was received favorably.

City leaders asked citizens to come Thursday to the first public meeting at the airport since a recent runway shutdown to voice concerns and ask questions.

Columbia Regional Airport reopened to all commercial air traffic Tuesday after having no flights for about a week while repairs were made to Runway 13-31. Pilots had complained about a “crown” where two runways intersected created a dangerous bump.

Mike Parks, Columbia Regional Airport director, said the community was supportive during the closure.

“We have, of course the business community, and just the general public has been really supportive of Columbia, you know, not just in the last week, but just overall,” Parks said.

He said members of the public understand the importance of the airport to the region.

Parks and city spokesman Steve Sapp said the city is working to figure out the exact cost of the project, and then will apply for funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, which could pay for up to 90 percent of the costs.

Parks said the FAA has been a great partner for the airport.

“We’re continuing to gather those documents from the contractors, subcontractors. As soon as we have that, we will be submitting those final invoices and our application to the FAA for matching funds,” Sapp said.

“The FAA has been a great partner to Columbia, and I really can’t stress that enough,” he said. “They helped us through this project, as well as they’ve been great support for all the capital projects at the airport.”

Both Sapp and Parks said they do not believe the closure will discourage new airlines from considering flights to and from Columbia.

“I believe that airlines, whether they’re flying in to Columbia Regional now, or they’re contemplating that, really are able to look at that incident from last week and say, ‘They were so responsive that we don’t have any worries about them not considering pilot safety not considering customer experience, and they’re a responsive airport and we want to be there,'” Sapp said.

Jennifer Mattingly experienced a canaceled flight during the closure. At the time, she said she would hesitate flying out of COU again. Now she said she would consider driving to Kansas City or St. Louis instead.

“If I were on a strict schedule or if I had my family with me we would probably really think hard about making that drive to Kansas City or St. Louis,” she said.

Todd Ridgeway was also caught up in the confusion, but he said he will fly through COU again in the future as a committed customer.

Those who attended the meeting also discussed other projects at the airport.

Parks said there are plans to expand the primary runway at the airport by 900 feet, which allows for larger aircraft to be able to use the airport.

As a result of the expansion, Route H will be extended east and will reach back to Rangeline Road. Crews will begin work on the project this summer.

They also discussed designing a new terminal and adding more parking.

Sapp said the terminal will provide necessary space for fliers.

Sapp said all of the improvement projects help encourage new airlines to come to Columbia, which provides competition, and in return creates lower fares.

“What I think we’re most excited about is at the end of 2019, 2020, we will have completed or have designed and in progress, every single project that we identified in the 2009 master plan,” he said.

“And of course, the terminal project, which is a little outside of that scope, is one the most exciting projects I think we’ve seen with Columbia Regional since 1968, when Columbia Regional Airport was built.”

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