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Negotiations underway for food service at Columbia Regional Airport

The inside of the Columbia Regional Airport. Passengers walk through the main lobby.
Nathan Lee

COLUMBIA − Columbia Regional Airport's new terminal has been open for almost a full year, and their number of arrival and departures have increased, according to its passenger load data.

However, the airport is facing pilot shortages that affects the number of airlines it uses. COU is also working on adding food service to better accommodate travelers.

The new terminal opened on Oct. 26, 2022. The airport saw a 1,552 total monthly passenger increase in September 2023 compared to the same time last year.

The $23-million terminal is 52,000 square-feet, compared to the previous 16,000 square-feet terminal.

Airport Manager Mike Parks said he’s heard great feedback for both first-time and constant flyers.

“It’s the front door to the community, right. So it’s much more comfortable for people flying in and flying out,” Parks said.

Upcoming restaurant

The terminal still does not have a restaurant, but Parks said it’s in the works.

“We’re going through the procurement process now," he said. "We went out to bid for a concessionaire to provide food service on the secure side of the terminal and also possibly the public side of the terminal."

Parks said the process for the request for proposal (RFP) started around April of this year. Currently, the airport is in negotiations and is close to having a draft ready for City Council to consider. Parks expects to be able to take this to council members in November.

However, the lack of food in the airport has caused an issue for some travelers.

Aida Guhlincozzi didn’t check into her 6 a.m. flight to Chicago in time on Wednesday and couldn't board her flight. Guhlincozzi was able to rebook to the temporary 11:45 a.m. flight to Chicago, but she said that she was still stranded.

“I think the staff, the security and everyone is great. My only issue is that there is no food because I’ve been here since 6 a.m. and I will be here until 11:45 a.m.,” she said.

She said she won't be able to eat until she either got to Chicago or had a snack on the plane.

“I’m not going to ask my husband to come 20 minutes, he’s at work. He’s not going to come drive 20 minutes from Jefferson City,” she said.

Pilot shortages affecting COU

A pilot shortage is affecting regional airports across the nation, including COU, Parks said. He said this has stunted the airport’s ability to add additional flights to and from the airport.

“There’s definitely a demand in mid-Missouri for an increased flight numbers out of Columbia," Parks said. "American [Airlines] is well aware of that and that’s something that we continue [have] top of mind with them to understand the demand is here. As soon as the pilot shortage is not as impactful here, we’ll look at additional flights."

Pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65. According to the Regional Airline Association,existing pilots are rapidly aging out. Nearly 50% of today’s pilots must retire in 15 years. Over 13% must retire in 5 years.

This year American Airlines, COU's only airline, will lose 828 pilots to retirement.

Passenger Julie Sexten said additional flights would help her family.

“The flight to Charlotte would be amazing for me," Sexten said. "I have a daughter who goes to school close to Charlotte, so to be able to fly directly to see her and for her to get home would be awesome."

Sexten says she flies out of COU eight to 10 times a year but would travel more if additional flights were offered.

“I think I would travel a lot more if we had more flights out of here, for sure, for the convenience,” she said.

To report an error or typo, email news@komu.com.

KOMU 8 is a full-powered NBC affiliate operating as an independent commercial property. As such, KOMU 8 is the only major network affiliate in the United States that acts as a university-owned commercial television station utilizing its newsroom as a working lab for students.
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