COLUMBIA — New details emerged about plans to add more parking at Columbia Regional Airport to accommodate increased traffic from new United Airlines flights and about the timeline for building a new airport terminal.
Mike Parks, Columbia’s airport manager, said during Wednesday’s Airport Advisory Board meeting that, weather permitting, new parking lots will be available before August, when United Airlines starts offering flights to and from Denver and Chicago.
The airport has 651 parking spots and expects 258 more to be ready by the end of July, according to Parks’ presentation.
“The parking lot we’ve already built is almost out of capacity with our existing service,” Parks said.
The Terminal Area Master Plan, the city’s long-term project to add another terminal, and other changes to the airport’s facilities were also discussed at the meeting.
Stacey Button, the city’s director of economic development, said the airport needs to improve the terminal because it’s old and too small.
The airport has seen a 24 percent increase in passengers during the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period of 2016, according to city data.
Button estimated the number of passengers would increase to as many as 220,000with the new United flights.
“We saw about 128,000 passengers last year,” Button said. “(American) is increasing the size (of its planes), and we’re certainly seeing a significant growth pattern, American alone.”
Button presented the timeline and budget for the city’s project for a new terminal at Wednesday’s meeting.
In May 2016, the Columbia City Council reviewed five alternatives for the Terminal Area Master Plan and chose the north side of the existing terminal as the construction site. The Federal Aviation Administration asked for additional information about the site selection after looking through documentation in February, Button said.
“At the end of this year, we hope we’ll be moving forward,” Button said. The city wants the new terminal to be done by 2023.
The $38 million project would be funded by the 1-cent increase in the city’s new lodging tax voters approved in August and by state and federal money, Button said.
Amy Schneider, director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it would take three to five years for the city to generate $10 million for the plan from the additional tax.
More convenient facilities
Parks said the airport has also installed additional signs, closed-circuit televisions and seats for customer convenience and safety. The second floor of the airport has been furnished with charging stations and bar stools as planned earlier this year.
“Including the expansion of the snack bar, we are going to try to think of a few more options available for the passengers,” Parks said. “It’s all about their convenience.”
More screening devices are also expected to come to in the airport.
“Whenever Transportation Security Administration installs that, that will be the centralized point for baggage (for both airlines),” Parks said.
The specific date of TSA’s installation of the screening equipment has not yet been set.
Along with the airport’s efforts to improve its facilities, Parks emphasized the communication among the airlines, TSA, city officials and passengers for its better service.
“I’m meeting with United Airlines, American Airlines, TSA and city staff,” Parks said. “We’re all together in mid-July because we want to make sure that we’re all on the same plan.”
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