Regional carriers for United Airlines and American Airlines temporarily suspended operations at Columbia Regional Airport (COU) on Saturday due to concerns over runway conditions, prompting plans for officials to meet Monday to discuss what happens next.
The airport announced Saturday night it received notification from SkyWest (regional carrier for United Airlines) as well as Mesa Airlines and Envoy Air (regional carriers for American Airlines) that they would indefinitely stop flying in or out of COU.
The airport’s main runway, 2-20, closed for maintenance April 1, with the project expected to last no more than 75 days, according to the City of Columbia. Airlines have been using newly renovated runway 13-31 in the meantime.
As part of ongoing discussions between the city and the airlines, the airlines indicated that they are concerned about the crown on runway 2-20 where it intersects runway 13-31, interim City Manager John Glascock said in a statement Sunday.
The crown is required by the Federal Aviation Administration in all main runways to help drain water, Glascock said. He added that the crown can cause the feeling of hitting a bump during takeoffs and landings. Glascock said Columbia Regional Airport Manager Mike Parks, Economic Development Director Stacey Button and engineering firm Burns & McDonnell have been working to fully understand the airlines’ concerns.
“The sudden cancellation of flights by regional carriers at COU has caused many people to delay travel plans, work to rebook flights from other airports, and caused frustration and perhaps anger,” Glascock said. “For that, we apologize and we are sorry. We value and appreciate our customers, surrounding communities and partners for supporting Columbia Regional Airport and we will strive to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
The city said in a news release Saturday night that the airport “is open and operational for departures and arrivals” and that “airlines determine their flight schedules and statuses.”
Air Wisconsin (regional carrier for United Airlines) is flying as scheduled and has not indicated changes to its flights, the release stated.
The airport announced around 5 p.m. Friday it experienced poor weather conditions over the previous 24-hour period, causing flight delays and cancellations, and said that fog, rain and general low visibility cause airlines to make decisions on the safety of both landing and taking off.
COU said Friday the latest cancellations were due to ceilings being less than 300 feet, making the runway hard to detect when landing.
Part of a master plan COU launched in 2009 was to replace the original crosswind runway to accommodate commercial air traffic when the main runway, 2-20, which is 50 years old, would need maintenance, Glascock said. In 2017 the secondary runway, 13-31, was rebuilt in anticipation of the main runway maintenance project this year, he added.
“While planning for the main runway maintenance project, we consulted many times with our partners, including the airlines, to inquire about any concerns,” he said. “At the time, none mentioned the crown in the main runway as being an issue. The crosswind runway has been used numerous times by the airlines since its completion and no concerns were voiced to us by the airlines.”
COU, city staff, FAA officials and COU airline partners plan to meet via conference calls Monday to discuss the concerns expressed by the regional carriers, the city said.
Glascock said he has personally inspected the 2-20 runway and suggested removing or reducing the crown during the time 13-31 is the primary runway.
“We will discuss those options with the airlines and the FAA on Monday morning,” he said.