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An upgraded travel experience.

Construction fencing and heavy equipment signal some exciting changes are on the horizon for Mid-Missouri travelers. Columbia Regional Airport’s new terminal is expected to open for passenger traffic late this summer, and the upgrades will make a flight out of COU feel like a whole new experience. 

Updated Feel & Function

The expansive new terminal boasts 52,000 square feet of space, four gates, and three jet bridges to complement the newly built hangar on the airfield’s north end. The new terminal is located on the site of the former hangar, which was demolished to make way for the modernized terminal. 

It’s a welcome update to the current 16,000-square-foot terminal that was built in 1968. In August 2016, Columbia voters approved a 1% hotel tax increase to fund the airport’s improvements and renovations. 

The updated facilities include improved restroom accessibility in the men’s and women’s restroom. Because the existing terminal was built prior to the implementation of Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, it lacks the accessibility features of modern spaces. The new terminal also brings some welcome conveniences to passengers that will assuredly improve the travel experience. 

“The new terminal will have an animal relief area,” says COU Manager Mike Parks. “If you’re beyond the screening checkpoint, it is an inside area for pets to relieve themselves without having to leave the secure side.” 

Mike Parks

The new space will also have a quiet sensory room and a mother’s room, complete with a changing table and a rocking chair for nursing. 

 “We don’t have these areas in Columbia currently, so they are great additions,” Mike says. 

Another new addition will be a restaurant that serves both the public and private sides of the terminal. Mike says they are currently soliciting bids for which eatery will occupy the spot. 

“The new space has the benefit of accessibility,” Mike says. “Our restaurant used to be upstairs, but in the new terminal, accessibility will be improved dramatically with everything accessible to everyone.” 

One beloved feature will, however, carry over from the old terminal to the new. With the University of Missouri sponsoring the baggage claim area, the belt will continue to play the school’s fight song as it turns, spreading hometown pride throughout the terminal. The baggage claim area will also feature MU-themed seating. 

To complete the new-look terminal, Mike says that national artist Dave Griggs has been chosen to construct a glass fixture that will hang from the ceiling of the main lobby. Regional artist Chris Morrey’s work will be featured on either side of the entrance. 

“There will also be a mural painted near the check in area in the main lobby,” Mike says. “The river scene with trees will depict central Missouri.” 

While physical construction of the terminal began last year during the pandemic, Mike says the $23 million project has progressed as expected and without delays. 

The next phase of the project will begin this fall and should conclude in next spring. That phase will include the reconstruction of the building just south of the new terminal, Mike says. The updated building will house TSA and airport administration offices and the rental car counter area. At the conclusion of the second phase, a covered walkway will connect the terminal to the building. 

A Work in Progress

Over the past five years, the airport has seen many additional improvements. Following the extension of a runway in 2017, the primary runway was lengthened from 6,500 feet to 7,400 feet. The extension can accommodate larger aircrafts, provide a longer distance for take off and landing during inclement weather, and alleviate concerns about weight restrictions during extreme summer heat. As part of the extension project, the old incandescent lights were replaced with energy efficient LED lights, which will save approximately 75% in runway energy costs. 

Beginning in July, construction will begin on a 975-by-50-foot taxiway. 

“This will be our last infrastructure improvement on the pavement area for another five years,” Mike says. “That will finish a project we started in 2014.” 

Construction is also underway on a new parking lot in front of the new terminal. Mike expects that lot to be completed around the time the new terminal opens. 

The Potential for Additional Service

American Airlines has been providing service from COU since 2013. Today, American does direct service from COU to Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. Travelers can access the world by connecting to their final destination through those hubs. 

United Airlines indefinitely suspended service from COU on January 3 due to limited resources and staffing concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that time, United operated two daily outbound flights to Chicago. However, Mike says he is hopeful those flights will return to  Columbia this year. 

“We haven’t heard a date United Airlines will return to Columbia, but we do expect United to return,” Mike says. “We are going to Phoenix to meet with American Airlines and other potential airlines to talk about service to Columbia and expansion of our current flights.” 

By the Numbers

Owned and operated by the City of Columbia, COU is staffed by 17 full-time city employees. While TSA doesn’t release staffing numbers, Mike estimates that COU has an additional 40 people employed by TSA and American Airlines. 

While COVID-19 has impacted air travel worldwide, Mike says that COU’s monthly volume is slowly starting to increase once again. While 132,648 passengers flew out of COU in 2019, that number dipped to 51,168 in 2020 before jumping to 77,964 in 2021. 

“We had an average of 10,000-12,000 passengers flying every month, down to 495 passengers in April 2020,” Mike says. “Our average in 2021 was 8,000 passengers per month.” 

Mike predicts 100,000 passengers will travel from COU on just American Airlines flights alone in 2022. 

Looking to the Future

While the new terminal is spacious, it was also constructed with growth in mind, Mike says. 

“As the airport continues to grow, we can continue expanding that terminal to the north, which is where the current terminal sits,” Mike says. “We have the option of removing the current terminal and expanding to the north when the airport needs it. Expandability was a big desire to have in the future, if we need it.” 

The current terminal will remain operational until the new one opens. When the new terminal is complete, Mike says the city will explore opportunities to lease out the existing terminal.  

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