When the University of Missouri left the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference, a number of logistical changes occurred. One significant shift came in the form of travel for fans of the Tigers and their conference foes.
In the Big 12, MU had a higher concentration of conference opponents in close proximity to campus; five of the school’s 11 conference opponents were located within 415 miles of Columbia.
That changed with MU’s departure from the Big 12 after the 2011-12 school year. In the SEC, just one of the other 13 conference schools, the University of Arkansas, is located within 415 miles of Columbia.
Columbia Regional Airport provides central Missouri an airport that has a major commercial carrier. American Airlines offers daily non-stop flights to and from Dallas and Chicago.
Between August and November 2012, which coincides with college football’s regular season, a total of 13,850 passengers deplaned at the airport. That represents a 4.7 percent increase in deplanements compared to the same period in 2011. From August to November 2012, the airport saw its fourth-highest total of inbound passengers of any four-month span.
Those numbers don’t reflect private charters. Randy Clark, General Manager of Central Missouri Aviation Inc., said it might be too early to tell what impact the university’s shift to the SEC will have on private planes flying in and out of the city. He said that each charter flight brought six to seven people.
“Last year was good for us,” Clark said. “We had a good turnout for the Georgia and Alabama games. We had about 60 to 70 planes for each game, which was comparable to what Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would bring.”
One major economic factor the private charters affected was fuel sales, Clark said.
“Last year, our fuel sales went way up,” he said. “This is huge because part of the money goes to the airport and the other part goes to paying salaries, so we feel the impact.”
Clark is cautiously optimistic about SEC travelers driving airport traffic in the future. He said he’s not sure if the trend will continue, or if it’s just part of the novelty of the university playing in the SEC and people wanting to see what the city is like.