Runway Too Short for Plane to Dallas

American Eagle needs 8,000 feet for jets it would use


Jun. 30--The Columbus Metropolitan Airport's efforts to add a new Columbus-to-Dallas route have had a turbulent beginning.

With Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta feeder with flights to Atlanta and the only carrier now serving Columbus, the Airport Commission turned to American Eagle -- a regional feeder for American Airlines -- in hopes of adding two daily flights from Columbus to American's hub in Dallas.

Airport officials had expected an answer from American Eagle by mid-summer. But the answer wasn't what they had hoped to hear.

The airline said the Columbus airport's 7,000-foot runway isn't long enough to accommodate the 50-passenger jets American Eagle would want to use here, said Airport Director Mark Oropeza.

When loaded with the fuel they need to make the trip to Dallas, the jets would be able to safely carry only 29 passengers.

Oropeza said pilots need enough runway so that if they lose an engine just as they are about to take off, they can either stop or continue the takeoff safely. With the kind of jet American Eagle wants to use, they would need approximately another 1,000 feet.

"Twenty-nine passengers is just not going to make it for them," Oropeza said.

Extending the runway to accommodate these jets could cost $30 million -- not a realistic option, Oropeza said.

Airport Commission Chairman Don Cook said airport officials have spent the last 18 months recruiting American Eagle. He said the carrier had indicated it wanted to be in Columbus before talks broke down over the length of the runway and the jet the airline insisted on using.

"We're not going to spend $30 million just for American Airlines to have their particular one jet come into our market because that would just not be financially feasible for us," Cook said.

But if American Eagle makes a compatible plane available, the opportunity for them to serve the Columbus airport could open up again, he said.

American Eagle flew into the city for six years, but left in the mid-1990s.

As passenger numbers dropped over the past 16 years, other airlines -- including Northwest Airlink and U.S. Airways Express -- also have left the market.

Now the airport will make a plea directly to American Airlines, trying to convince the Dallas/Fort Worth carrier that flying to Columbus makes business sense.

With a more diverse fleet, Oropeza said, American has more flexibility in which planes it could use for a Columbus route.

Airport officials also will meet next month for a second time with United Airlines and Northwest Airlines about bringing those airlines to Columbus.

Asked about the possibility of Columbus getting a new carrier, Oropeza said, "Who knows?" He said it comes down to convincing airlines they can make the most money by coming to Columbus.

"You always have to remember you're competing with every other city in the United States," he said.

Contact Brian McDearmon at 706-571-8543

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