Columbia Metro Airport's status discussed in summit

Columbia Metro Airport is doing fine, but also has challenges ahead.

That was the message delivered to business and community leaders discussing problems facing the airline industry; and how they may affect the future of Columbia's airport.

The facility has some major obstacles to overcome. Guest speaker William Swelbar, a research engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Air Transportation Center said rising jet fuel prices are forcing airlines to do away with smaller commercial planes like the ones used at Columbia Metro.

"Columbia is served primarily by the 50 seat regional jet. And the current state of fuel is not kind to the 50 seat regional jet."

Another problem is geography. The Capital City is close to Charlotte, which has the 10th largest airport in the nation. Airports in Greenville-Spartanburg and Charleston carry Southwest Airlines; an inexpensive option not available in Columbia. Swelbar said there is a reason Charleston was chosen.

"Southwest operates in its own unique way. It made a decision to go to Charleston. There was tremendous leisure draw there as well as some of the cruise market that might be there."

But CMA Executive Director Dan Mann said there are benefits to not having Southwest; noting an 8% increase in passenger traffic, and a 9% increase in cargo so far this year.

"Delta Airlines actually changed their pricing policy to match the fares of the competition. So we've actually seen an uptake in traffic. Since Southwest has been in the other two markets, we've had six positive months."

Mann said Columbia Metro continues to expand. He also announced a second daily flight from Delta Airlines to New York's LaGuardia Airport beginning in July; and starting daily flights to Newark from United Airlines in the fall. Its a trend officials and the city want to see soar for the rest of the year.