updated 4/2/2007 1:16:17 PM ET 2007-04-02T17:16:17

Air Midwest plans to ask federal officials to allow it to drop 12 weekly flights from Columbia to St. Louis, while increasing weekly flights to Kansas City from 12 to 24, airline and city officials said.

Air Midwest, Columbia's only commercial airline service, is seeking the changes because of months of delayed flights and other problems.

The new schedule must be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Mesa Air Group, a Phoenix-based subsidiary of Air Midwest, said the plan would improve access to connecting flights from Columbia Regional Airport and offer more flexibility in scheduling.

The company was awarded a federally subsidized "essential air service" contract in October to operate at the airport.

Since then, planes have flown empty and flights have sometimes been delayed so long that passengers have driven or taken shuttles to their connecting flights, Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins said in a memo to the City Council.

Passenger data from February show that flights from Columbia averaged eight people - 42 percent of capacity on the 19-seat turboprop planes.

Airport Manager Kathy Frerking said since Mesa took over, some flights have been "excessively late." Passengers "knew they could hop in the vans and be in St. Louis or Kansas City," Frerking said. "They'd take that opportunity rather than risk being late again."

Jeff Hartz, a Mesa spokesman, said in an e-mail to Frerking that a Kansas City-only plan would provide connecting flights to carriers with nonstop flights to about 30 U.S. cities.

Hartz told the Columbia Daily Tribune it is cheaper to fly into Kansas City than St. Louis and the airline operates its own line facilities there, which would lead to more reliable flights.

"Something needed to be done," Hartz said. "We're obviously not satisfied. It may not fix every single problem, but it might make some things easier."

Hartz said he hopes the change will be made by July 8.

City Councilman Chris Janku said Columbia should consider asking another regional airline to bid on a contract.

"The whole level of service that they've been providing has been a disappointment - not just to me, but to a lot of people," Janku said.

However, the only other carrier to bid on service from Columbia last year, Regions Air, had its planes grounded twice this month after it lost a code-sharing agreement with American Airlines.

Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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