Port Columbus and Mayor Coleman agree: More direct flights needed

In addition to the ongoing $80 million terminal modernization at Port Columbus International Airport, the Columbus Regional Airport Authority is engaged in robust business development efforts. The airport initiated daily nonstop flights to Los Angeles through American Airlines in August 2013. Port Columbus is currently in talks to develop other desirable direct routes, says David Whitaker, vice president of business development and communications.

The strategy aligns with the mayor's goal of establishing more direct flights into and out of Columbus.

Four major commercial carriers remain in operation following the merger of American and U.S. Airways in December 2013, leading to increased competition among the four main airlines serving Port Columbus: American, Delta, United and Southwest.

"(American is ) fighting with others to have the dominant market position in L.A., and we're the beneficiaries of that," says Whitaker. Whitaker is leveraging the opportunity to bring better routes to Columbus. Next on the list: a direct nonstop flight to the San Francisco Bay Area.

"The technology data segment of (the Columbus regional) economy is thriving. That's creating greater demand to fly back and forth to the Bay Area efficiently," says Whitaker. The top candidates for the CMH to SFO route are United, Southwest and Virgin America.

The added direct routes would "change the equation" for Port Columbus; the airport's seen commercial passenger numbers flatten over the past several years and projects the same in 2014, says Whitaker. The airport authority works with Columbus 2020, the regional economic development agency, to strengthen the region's air travel capabilities.

"It enables business. There's a strong correlation between the economic vitality of a market and its air service," says Whitaker. That mobility is a key factor in attracting, retaining and growing businesses in central Ohio.

U.S. companies spent $225 billion in domestic business travel expenditures and $34 billion on international business travel in 2012, according to the U.S. Travel Association.