By Mike Gula
As I sit here today and reflect on the last two years, I can honestly say it has been a mixture of emotions. Like many, I have experienced uncertainty and panic, confusion, and doubt, but then also hope and optimism. The pandemic completely changed how the world operates, interacts, functions, and runs and I, like my peers, are still adjusting to this new normal.
The aviation industry took a direct hit in March of 2020.
With air travel all but coming to a complete halt, we were immediately unsure of when the airport hustle and bustle as we knew it would resume, when passengers would return or how long flights would be canceled.
While we are still in recovery mode and not fully back to pre-pandemic passenger traffic numbers, Columbia Metropolitan Airport has been intentionally focused on regaining traction in every area across the airport campus — with a single goal of coming back even stronger than before.
CAE sees strong passenger traffic, terminal enhancements
The summer months here at CAE have historically been a season of high passenger traffic — and this year is no different. It has been refreshing and reassuring to see travelers return to the skies.
In June of this year, CAE saw a monthly increase of roughly 23.14% in passenger traffic over June of 2021 with nearly 102,000 passengers through the airport. The Transportation Security Administration reported that on June 30 of this year, 2.4 million passengers went through airport security checkpoints across the country.
That same day in 2021, that number was 2.1 million; in 2020 it was 718,000, and in 2019 it was 2.1 million.
As passengers return to CAE, they will be met with a few large-scale projects that we are looking forward to completing in the coming months. Our in-line baggage system is slated to be complete this November, allowing for a less congested and easier experience for our passengers.
This system, which moves the screening conveyor belts behind ticket agents and eliminates the need for passengers to walk their bags over to screeners, will help streamline the check-in process and make getting to the gate that much faster.
In addition, we are continuously making improvements that will directly and positively impact our passengers.
In the parking garage, we now have a parking guidance system that illuminates red or green lights over parking spaces. This feature, coupled with online pre-booking capabilities, has received rave reviews from our passengers.
Airport needs ongoing support from local community
In order to keep momentum like this going, it is imperative that this community supports this airport by utilizing its services.
Currently, CAE loses roughly 48% of potential passenger traffic to Charlotte and Atlanta.
This staggering number has a sobering effect when you consider all the potential flight opportunity this airport could have if this percentage was significantly less.
We push and promote the need to fly local for a reason, and it’s one that we will continue to endorse.
Flying local means more routes, more airlines, more options for our passengers and community.
If you’re thinking about flying to your next destination — may it be business or pleasure — we simply ask that you consider CAE.
Look here before taking dollars out of the state to another airport.
If CAE cannot accommodate your travel needs, then may I please ask that you look at another South Carolina airport.
Taking your business to one of our peer airports is a better option than any option outside of South Carolina.
Airport eager to move forward with new projects in 2022
As we head into the back half of 2022, CAE sits poised and ready to continue moving forward, meeting and exceeding goals.
From various economic development projects underway and promising conversations with low-cost carriers, to community partnerships like our current relationship with South Carolina Air National Guard and updated technology throughout the terminal, our future not only looks bright, but it is also just beginning.
Mike Gula is executive director of Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
This column first appeared in the September/October issue of SCBIZ Magazine.