Air traffic drops 36 percent in April at Columbia Regional Airport

Airport traffic in April

Air traffic at Columbia Regional Airport dropped about 36 percent in April, showing at least some of the impact a weeklong closure of the runway had that month.

United Airlines and American Airlines reported 6,857 people left COU in April, while 6,424 people got off a plane in Columbia. That accounts for a 35.6 percent drop when compared with numbers from April 2018. It was also a 38 percent drop from April to March of this year.

The airport lost eight days' worth of flights when pilots reported feeling a "bump" when landing in early April. Airport officials blamed the crown of Runway 13-31, and closed the runway to fix it. The runway reopened April 14 and flights resumed shortly after that.

City communications director Steve Sapp told ABC 17 News the loss of air traffic was about what they expected. Since repairs were made, Sapp said he has not heard any pilot concerns.

"Parking lots are full again, lot of traffic moving through in the afternoon, morning, evening hours, so we're confident that we're back on track in our passenger counts," Sapp said.

Robert Einhorn, spokesperson for United Airlines, told ABC 17 News that it appeared passenger counts were returning to normal at COU for its flights. Both United and American Airlines added flights at COU following the runway reopening.

The city hopes the Federal Aviation Administration will pay 90 percent of the cost of the repairs, which Sapp estimated to be $450,000 to $500,000.

Sapp said it was still too early to tell how the eight-day suspension of flights will affect the airport's budget. Those numbers will most likely be available in 30 to 60 days, Sapp said.

The work done on Runway 13-31 will eventually have to be undone. The city plans to extend Runway 2-20 by nearly 1,000 feet in 2021, which will involve work on the intersection of the two runways. Sapp said the recent crown work involved an asphalt wedge, and will only last for five years. Had the city prepared the crown with concrete for the runway extension last month, Sapp said it may have closed the runway for a month. 

Sapp said that they will continue to work with regional carriers when that project begins.

"We'll make sure that when we do that, that we involve our regional partners and so forth to make sure that they're satisfied with the design frame, and then we'll have them out to look at the intersection to make sure they're satsified with that as well," Sapp said.

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