You may have heard that discount carrier Vision Airlines will soon offer flights out of Columbia to its home in the Destin, Florida, area. Yesterday, Bill Maloney, Vision’s director of business development, introduced himself to local media.
He didn’t offer a lot of new details beyond what had been reported previously, so I pass on this from Columbia Regional Business Report, which provides the basics:
A charter airline that got its start in 1994 offering aerial tours of the Grand Canyon, Vision is expanding the scheduled commercial service it started just two years ago. The company announced today that it will launch service in 20 Southeastern cities this spring. In addition to Columbia, the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is on the list.
Vision, headquartered outside Atlanta, will fly to the Northwest Florida Regional Airport, providing a gateway to the coastal towns in the Florida panhandle.
The company operates a mixed fleet of Boeing 767, Boeing 737 and Dornier 328 aircraft. At Columbia, Vision will fly a 148-seat Boeing 737-400 aircraft….
Vision is offering introductory fares of $49 one-way if booked Jan. 18-23. After that, rates start at $89 one-way.
The other cities where Vision is launching service include Atlanta; Little Rock, Ark.; Hunstville, Ala.; Punta Gorda, Fla.; Baton Rouge, La.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Macon, Ga.; Savannah, Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; Orlando, Fla.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Asheville, N.C. and Shreveport, La.
Will Vision make it where others have not? Will it grow here, and add destinations to its modest initial offering? Will it help broaden the menu of destinations from CAE and lower fares?
Well, that depends on us. Of everything said at the press conference Wednesday, the most pertinent was this, from CMA Executive Director Dan Mann:
The key is going to be community support, and getting on the aircraft.
It’s all up to us. Either Columbia — and by “Columbia” we mean the economic community that sprawls across Richland and Lexington counties and beyond — gets in the habit of flying out of its own airport when feasible (and cost-effective), or it doesn’t. We all want lower fares (the lack of which is the biggest reason many folks drive to other cities to catch flights), but we’ll never get them unless we fill up the flights we have here, so the airlines can make money flying bigger planes, with more seats, out of CAE.
As consultant Michael Boyd made clear last year, airlines aren’t going to do that out of sympathy for our plight. We, the community, have to change the math for them. And for the airlines to schedule more flights out of here, with bigger planes – thereby lowering fares – we have to provide them with more passengers wanting to fly from HERE to those destinations.
Too many of us don’t fly out of Columbia because of the fares. And we can’t lower the fares without more of us flying out of here. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. Or a tomato thing.
As airport commission vice chair Anne Sinclair said recently:
People used to not care where their tomato comes from. Now they do. That didn’t happen by magic… I honestly think people take this airport for granted.
Columbia needs an aviation version of the locavore movement. Increasingly, consumers care that their tomato is homegrown. That’s what Emile DeFelice played on so effectively when he ran for state commissioner of agriculture on the slogan, “Put Your State on Your Plate.” He didn’t get elected, but his campaign spurred the agriculture department to step up its own program to promote local products, “Certified South Carolina.” Not quite as catchy or engaging to the imagination, but now you see those stickers in every supermarket, and they are increasingly part of the consciousness of the shopping public.
For CAE, the challenge is to get its friends and neighbors to Think Columbia First. Without a united community that sees Columbia Metropolitan as OUR airport, the airport can’t grow. And without a growing, dynamic airport, our community can’t grow.
More people in the Midlands need to think of Columbia Metropolitan Airport as their airport, the one in which they have a stake, the one they want to see succeed (and want to be a part of bringing about that success). Of course, that also involves having a more positive attitude toward their own community. There are people who turn up their noses at things because they are local, the function of a collective inferiority complex. That needs to change (and fortunately, on a number of fronts it IS changing).
Dan Mann understands this. The challenge for him, and for all who want to grow this community, is to make sure the rest of us get it.