WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Air travelers at Columbia Metropolitan Airport are now getting a bird's eye view of the airport's new energy source.
The airport is now tapping into the output of a 4,320-panel, 1.38-megawatt solar array, the first of its kind at a Palmetto State airfield. The solar farm is located on a five-acre site between two runways.
It was developed in conjunction with Con Edison Solutions, a subsidiary of the giant New York-based Consolidated Edison utility. The project marks the utility's first solar project in South Carolina.
Airport Executive Director Dan Mann says the solar panels add to a $60 million dollar capital improvements plan launched in 2010. Con Edison says energy generated by the solar array will produce about $250,000 in annual bill credits for the airport from SCE&G over a ten year period.
Mann says the solar power along with other energy efficiency improvements including LED lighting on runways and in the main terminal will lower operational costs.
He says those savings can be turned around to aid an ongoing effort to attract a low-cost air carrier, which could in turn help reduce airfares.
"We want to keep our costs low so we can be more competitive and attract more air service," Mann says. "And again, you don't think about solar-related to air service, but when you talk about being self-sufficient, generating revenues, saving money, we're trying to look at every aspect of this and see what we can do to run a better airport and be more competitive."
Travelers say lower fares and more direct flights are top priorities at Columbia's major airport.
"When it comes down to the passenger, I just think they look at two things," said Kevin Strunk and he and his wife Kathy prepared to catch a flight that would take them to Germany.
"It's a matter of convenience and price. What's easy to get to, what's the best connection as far as time wise. You know, what's more direct? Folks are looking for direct flights," Strunk told us.
Columbia already offers more than 30 daily non-stop flights to nine major airports nationwide.
Mann says recent negotiations aimed at attracting a low-cost carrier have been going better over the last 18 months.
The airport has recorded five straight years of lower fares starting in 2012. But this year, the streak may end with fares up significantly and passenger bookings slipping during the first five months of 2017.