The Midlands Aviation Summit today

Went to the Midlands Aviation Summit today at the convention center, which was the community’s chance to hear airport consultant Michael Boyd of Boyd Group International (above) assessing the state of, and future prospects for, Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

As you can see below, there was a pretty decent turnout of concerned folks. They ran the gamut from professional ecodevo types from the Chamber, the Midlands Alliance and Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism to business travelers with a beef about the cost of parking at CAE.

Some main points from what he said:

  • That scraping sound is not an iceberg.” The fact that Southwest chose Charleston and Greenville and not Columbia is not a huge deal. Southwest is what it is, and he doesn’t see it as the cure for Columbia’s ills. It’s not “the giant sucking sound.”
  • While we might have challenges with fares and losing passengers to Charlotte, for business purposes CAE provides what Columbia needs — connections to where business travelers need to be.
  • Main thing travel into and out of Columbia needs to be is reliable, to not have our flights be among those that get canceled when there’s a rainstorm.
  • Airlines don’t care about our civic enthusiasm. They don’t want to view cute or pleading videos. Don’t send them the mayor. What they care about is whether they’re going to make any money, because nobody’s taking risks these days.
  • No, don’t start your own airline. Air South? “We don’t talk about that in polite society.”
  • What can civic-minded folks who want to see the airport grow as a boost to the local economy DO? Check out the local airport first. Don’t assume it can’t meet your needs. Give it a chance.
  • We just don’t have enough traffic — enough passengers on big enough airplanes — to bring down fares. When someone pointed out that smaller airports such as Florence and Augusta have lower fares, he said he had no idea why. “I used to be in airline pricing, so I have no understanding of it whatsoever.”
  • The cost of parking is not a problem.

On that last one I had to challenge him. When he said “Nobody cares about the cost of parking,” several people around me muttered, “I care.” I told him that, and also told him that I hear all the time from people who have run the numbers, and come out ahead paying for the gas to drive to Charlotte and park there. I added that even if it didn’t make sense, even if it were totally irrational, it would still be a real problem we had to deal with. Airport Executive Director Dan Mann told me afterward that he gets it. Perception is reality.

(It occurs to me that next time local governments want to invest money in boosting air travel, rather than starting an airline, maybe they could help the airport lower those parking costs. I realize it’s based on the need to pay for the capital investment, but maybe there’s some way to restructure the debt. Or something.)

On the lower pricing in Augusta and Florence… I was glad someone brought that up, and somewhat disappointed he couldn’t tell us why that was the case. But it occurs to me that there must be some reason, his joke about the illogical nature of pricing aside. And if we could find out that reason, and apply it here, it would help.

Based on what Mr. Boyd said and a brief conversation with Dan Mann after the presentation, the thinking seems to be that Columbia’s best chance for expansion of air service lies with Delta, not USAirways. So our local economic developers in the air transportation field are likely to be looking more to Atlanta, less to Charlotte.

16 thoughts on “The Midlands Aviation Summit today

  1. Mark Stewart

    While normally a civic supporter, I say good luck on this one. Maybe Cola could get CLT to rename itself like HHI got with Savannah?

  2. jeffrey day

    Either you didn’t take good notes or this guy didn’t say much of anything. And I’m with you on the parking – it’s completely overpriced.
    You really can drive to Charlotte and park for a week for less money. And you’re last hop to Colatown won’t be canceled if it rains.

  3. bud

    Did he REALLY say the cost of parking is “no problem”. How out of touch can you get. If parking were cheaper it would partially offset the high cost of the tickets.

  4. Phillip

    I agree with you and Jeffrey on the parking and not with this guy. It’s not like CAE is slightly higher than CLT: it’s WAY higher. If transit gets fixed (saved) in this town, one of the first priorities should be to have decent, semi-regular bus service to CAE. I’d definitely make use of that.

  5. Doug Ross

    Are there direct flights from Columbia to Florida? I only fly USAir and Delta so I don’t know if other carriers go there. If not, why not? Seems like we could support a direct flight per day to Orlando.

    I fly 40 weeks out of the year out of Columbia. Parking is way too high. Restaurant choices are abysmal. Free wireless internet is very good. The airport itself is clean and bright. The TSA lines are always short (and overstaffed by about double what is required). Time from getting off plane to picking up bags is very good. Rental cars are right out the back door (I absolutely HATE riding on a shuttle for 10 minutes to get a car – this means you, Denver and Dallas).

    Guess it’s a chicken-and-egg thing. Until we get more flights, we won’t get more passengers and until we get more passengers, we won’t get more flights.

  6. Lynn

    Parking does matter and so does customer courtesy. I no longer use the Columbia Airport because of the difficulty in dropping passengers off. Twice I’ve dropped older people off with several suitcases. I have had to assist them to get their luggage inside the terminal. I have obviously been assisting an elderly person, have made eye contact with security and in less than 1 minute returned to find an expensive ticket. Not an issue in Charlotte. My protests have fallen on deaf ears with airport management. How does someone assist a passenger with more than carry-on into the terminal without encountering the Columbia Airport parking pit bulls? How about being user friendly and easy to access? How about a parking discount if you have a valid boarding pass? How about some common southern courtesy?

    I wish our airport luck, as an economist I get the need for reliable and affordable transportation. As a consumer I vote with my dollars and travel out of either Greenville or Charlotte. Heck in Greenville security often assists folks when there are issues with luggage to safely enter the terminal. Courtesy and common sense.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    The argument about parking cost for business travelers is that your time is worth something, too. Now, if you can drive and park in Charlotte in less time than in would take you to fly there, including mandatory pre-flight wait times, then….leisure travelers cannot make this argument, of course.

  8. Michael P.

    The only time I fly out of Columbia is when 1) someone else is paying for it, or 2) when I’m using frequent flier miles. Other than that it’s GSP or CLT… or if it’s less than a day’s drive I drive rather than be cattle-car’d.

  9. scout

    Michael P.,

    I don’t know how to take you. You didn’t get Brad’s sarcasm about the size of the flag rally, so is it possible you are being sarcastic here? Or are you seriously unaware of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport located across the river in Lexington County?

    In case you really don’t know, we have one there, with commercial flights and gates and parking and security and rental cars and stuff like that. So, no, they are not talking about tiny little Owens field off of Rosewood by the YMCA soccer fields.

  10. Michael P.

    scout – Really? Gosh, I’ve lived here for nearly 20 years and you learn something new everyday. Maybe Columbia could start up their own airline and really get the traffic count up. Maybe even look into a package delivery hub or two.

  11. Ralph Hightower

    Returning home from CMH (Columbus OH), the plane flying me to CLT was late because a passenger noticed something “funny” on the wing before taking off and it had to go back to gate at PIT (Pittsburgh PA). I don’t know if the passenger was Bob Wilson or not; ref: Twighlight Zone, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet featuring William Shatner.

    My connecting flight from CLT to CAE was going to be in the air when I landed in CLT.

    I didn’t want to spend another night in CMH, so my plan was to get a rental car in CLT for the drive to CAE and cancel the CLT-CAE leg of the flight. Ended up saving the company money doing that.

    Would I have done that I had to change planes in ATL? 4 hours drive time versus 2 hours drive time? I don’t know.

  12. Kathryn Fenner

    @Ralph–I thought of the Twilight Zone episode immediately.

    I did get “t-stormed” with a 12/23 flight via ATL to AGS. When I landed in ATL, they said the next available flight was 12/26. I rented a car a drove the 3 hours to Aiken, although it was almost 4AM by the time I got there.

    —which is the problem with driving long distances to airports. Starting out on a journey, you’re fresh (maybe), but the drive back after a fatiguing trip and flight(s) is probably not very safe.

  13. Steve Gordy

    Perhaps the powers that be at CAE should talk to the administrator at NW Florida Beaches International Airport (aka Panama City Beach), which just opened. Southwest jumped in there in a big way, with daily nonstops to BWI, Nashville, Houston, and Orlando.

  14. Columbia Charlotte Shuttle

    Lots of good comments and interesting perspectives. Columbia Charlotte Shuttle will be accompanied by Columbia Greenville Shuttle starting next year. The price to Greenville will be the same as Charlotte, $49 for adults, $25 for kids.

  15. Kathryn Fenner

    @Steve Gordy–I guess first we need to rename ourselves–the Peach/Mustard Barbecue Airport? The Two Hours from Where You Really Want to Be Airport?

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