McDavid said the city has lost innumerable corporate investments due to its inadequate air service. Until 2010, when Delta added limited jet service through Memphis, Tenn., it had been a decade since Columbia passengers could travel on bigger planes on now-defunct Ozark Airlines, which offered flights to Chicago and Dallas.
The city is ponying up $1.2 million toward the revenue shortfall fund, with the local Chamber of Commerce providing $600,000 and county government another $500,000. The University of Missouri is also shelling out $500,000, with neighboring Cole County and Jefferson City, the state capital, each pledging $100,000.
In return, American is bringing two daily nonstop flights to and from Dallas/Fort Worth, and one daily nonstop route to Chicago O'Hare International Airport on 50-seat regional passenger jets, starting in mid-February. The city will also waive two years of landing fees and facility rents, valued at $250,000, and chip in $400,000 of free advertising through a deal with a local broadcaster.
American spokesman Matt Miller declined comment, citing a company policy of not discussing its revenue guarantees.
Columbia's air-service links to the southeastern United States aren't completely severed. In November, Frontier Airlines will begin offering twice-weekly flights to Orlando, Fla., on 138-seat jets.
Mike Boyd, a Colorado-based aviation consultant who previously worked with Columbia but wasn't a part of the Delta and American negotiations, said the city still came out ahead despite Delta's departure.
“It's the only airport I know where airlines are falling over themselves to get there,” said Boyd, adding that United Airlines was also interested in a Chicago connection. “I think other cities would kill to get into this situation.
“If American comes to you and says, `I want to fly to your community,' the city can't say, `We don't want you,” he continued. “You have to take what you get, and accept the consequences.”