Columbia Metropolitan Airport

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Columbia Metropolitan Airport
Columbia Metropolitan Airport Logo.jpg
Columbia Metropolitan Airport - South Carolina.jpg
Airport typePublic
Owner/OperatorRichland-Lexington Airport District
Serves Columbia, South Carolina
Location Lexington County
Hub for UPS Airlines
Focus city for Air Wisconsin
Elevation  AMSL236 ft / 72 m
Coordinates 33°56′20″N 081°07′10″W / 33.93889°N 81.11944°W / 33.93889; -81.11944
KCAE is located in South Carolina
Direction Length Surface
ft m
5/23 8,001 2,439 Asphalt/Concrete
11/29 8,601 2,622 Asphalt
Number Length Surface
ft m
H1 50 15 Concrete
Statistics (2018)
Commercial Passengers1,197,603
Scheduled Departures12,324
Freight/Mail (lb.)136.67 million

Columbia Metropolitan Airport ( IATA: CAE, ICAO: KCAE, FAA LID: CAE) is the main commercial airport for Columbia and the Midlands region of South Carolina. The airport is five miles (8 km) southwest of Columbia, in Lexington County, [1] surrounded by the city of Cayce and the towns of Springdale, Pine Ridge, and South Congaree. The airport is a regional cargo hub for UPS Airlines.


World War II era

The airport was built in 1940 as Lexington County Airport. In 1940 the United States Army Air Corps indicated a need for the airfield as part of the buildup of its forces after World War II began in Europe. The earliest recorded Air Corps use of the airport was when the 105th Observation Squadron began flying Douglas O-38 and North American O-47 light observation aircraft on 24 September[ year needed].

In 1941 the airport came under formal military control and an immediate program began to turn the civil airport into a military airfield. On 8 December 1941, as the Columbia Army Air Base, Columbia Army Airfield's mission was a training base for B-25 Mitchell crews.

One of the earliest units to train at Columbia AAB was the 17th Bombardment Group, which arrived on 9 February 1942. When the group arrived in Columbia its combat crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an "extremely hazardous" but unspecified mission which ultimately turned out to be the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan. Contrary to popular belief, the volunteers who made up the crews of the Doolittle Raid did not train for the Raid itself at Columbia.

Training at Columbia Army Air Base was phased down during the summer of 1945. Several units arrived at the base from overseas to inactivate during September and October. It was inactivated by the U.S. Army Air Forces on 30 November and returned to civil authorities, which converted it back to an airport. The 350th Bombardment Squadron was assigned to Columbia Metropolitan Airport on 16 July 1947 as part of the Air Force Reserve, but it was never equipped or manned; it was inactivated on 27 June 1949.

Postwar use

Columbia Metropolitan Airport 1998

Passenger service began on Delta Air Lines which has served Columbia for over 70 years. Delta began flights from Columbia to Charleston, Asheville, Jacksonville, Augusta, Savannah and New York–La Guardia. Delta DC-9 jet flights began March 7, 1966, with Flight 521 from Charleston continuing to Atlanta.

Eastern Airlines flew to Charlotte, Washington, and New York; it first scheduled jets to CAE in 1965. Piedmont Airlines flew from Augusta, Florence, and Charlotte in 1962. Southern Airways flew to Charleston and Greenville/Spartanburg. In January 1978 Eastern started flights to Atlanta after a route swap with Piedmont Airlines. Southern Airways left in December 1978, six months before their merger with North Central Airlines to form Republic Airlines. Atlantis Airlines started service in 1979 for a brief time using Twin Otter aircraft. Piedmont Airlines introduced nonstop service to Miami in January 1980, but dropped Columbia in June 1980 leaving only Delta and Eastern for a time.

In November 1982 Piedmont Airlines returned to Columbia with flights to Charlotte and later Newark. American Airlines would start service in 1985 to Raleigh and United Airlines would fly to Charlotte and Chicago–O'Hare. PeopleExpress and Continental Airlines. Freedom Airlines operated Convairs to Columbia in 1983. United Express (operated by Atlantic Coast Airlines) entered the market May 24, 1999 with service to Washington–Dulles and added Chicago–O'Hare on July 1, 2000. Northwest Airlines (operated by Pinnacle Airlines) came to Columbia on October 6, 2003, offering service to Detroit. On October 30, 2005, American Eagle returned after a nine-year absence with service to Dallas/Fort Worth after Delta closed their DFW hub earlier that year. In October 2010 US Airways Express operated by Air Wisconsin began non-stops to New York–La Guardia, but wound up discontinuing it as a result of a New York–La Guardia slot swap with Delta, which now has two daily flights to the airport.

Since 2000 the airport has tried to recruit low-cost carriers, but has been unable to maintain those services. Allegiant Air tried service to Orlando/Sanford, St. Petersburg/Clearwater and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, yet these services did not last. Independence Air served Columbia briefly in 2004 and 2005 with service to Washington–Dulles before ceasing its operations in January 2006. In May 2008, Spirit Airlines began service to Fort Lauderdale but terminated the route in March 2009. In 2011 Vision Airlines launched service to Destin, Florida, ending the route after a month.

In 2015 United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek was forced to step down after it was revealed that he had continued to run an unprofitable route to the airport from Newark Liberty International Airport for former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey chairman David Samson. [2]

On June 7, 2018 American Airlines restored mainline service to Columbia with two daily nonstop flights to Dallas/Fort Worth. [3] The airline also announced it will start flights to/from Miami by the end of 2019.


The airport covers 2,600 acres (1,100 ha) and has two runways: 11/29 is 8,601 x 150 ft (2,622 x 46 m) and 5/23 is 8,001 x 150 ft (2,439 x 46 m). It has a 50 x 50 ft (15 x 15 m) helipad. The center 75 feet of runway 5/23 is asphalt; the edges are grooved concrete. [1]

The airport is a hub for UPS Airlines and was a hub for Air South, a former low-cost carrier.

In 2017 the airport had 53,750 aircraft operations, average 147 per day: 37% air taxi, 38% general aviation, 22% airline and 3% military. 87 aircraft were then based at the airport: 47 single-engine, 9 multi-engine, 28 jet, 2 gliders and 1 helicopter. [1]

The terminal opened May 30, 1965, and was renovated in 1997. The renovation was designed by Heyward, Woodrum, Fant & Associates, Ltd. [4] It replaces a terminal built in the early 1950s which was a replacement of a terminal built several years earlier in the early 1950s. [5] Since the late 1980s, capital improvements have been undertaken, including a renovated and expanded terminal, a new parking garage (completed in 2003), the lengthening of the runways, and better interstate access. The terminal has several services, including gift shops, the Everett Adams Memorial Chapel, restaurants and bars inside the terminal. Free wireless internet service is provided throughout the airport as well as small number of recharge stations with access to outlets.

Police and fire/rescue services are provided by the Columbia Metro Airport Department of Public Safety. Public safety officers are South Carolina Police Academy Class 1 officers, and South Carolina Fire Academy IFSAC Firefighter II, and Airport Firefighter. Some have basic EMT certifications. The Department has three ARFF units, one RIV unit, one fire pumper, and a service truck. Law enforcement is covered by four patrol vehicles. The Department provides fire services at the FAR 139 level only. Structural firefighting is handled by Lexington County Fire Service.

Airlines and destinations

Passenger service is currently provided by five scheduled airlines, with commercial cargo service being handled by three scheduled airlines and numerous air freight operators. Two fixed-base operators also serve the Metro facility with various charter flights. The airport maintains a newly dedicated air cargo terminal, the Columbia Airport Enterprise Park (CAE Park) and Foreign Trade Zone #127. Columbia Metropolitan Airport recently completed a $45 million terminal expansion and renovation. Annually, the airport serves about 1 million passengers, though prior to the Great Recession, nearly 1.5 million passengers were served. [6]


American Airlines Dallas/Fort Worth
American Eagle Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, New York–LaGuardia, Philadelphia, Washington–National
Delta Air Lines Atlanta
Delta Connection Atlanta, New York–LaGuardia
Silver Airways Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa (all begin December 17, 2020) [7]
United Express Chicago–O'Hare, Washington–Dulles


FedEx Express Indianapolis, Memphis
FedEx Feeder Greensboro, Myrtle Beach
UPS Airlines Beaufort, Dallas/Fort Worth, Louisville, Miami, Myrtle Beach, Oakland, Ontario, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Savannah, Statesboro, Swainsboro


Airline market share

Carrier shares: Jan 2019 – Dec 2019 [8]
Carrier Passengers (arriving and departing)
Other airlines

Top destinations

Busiest domestic routes from CAE (Jan 2019 – Dec 2019) [8]
Rank City Passengers Carriers
1 Atlanta, Georgia 243,000 Delta
2 Charlotte, North Carolina 130,000 American
3 Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas 77,000 American
4 Washington–National, D.C. 42,000 American
5 Washington–Dulles, D.C. 39,000 United
5 Chicago–O'Hare, Illinois 39,000 United
7 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 33,000 American
8 New York–LaGuardia, New York 32,000 American, Delta
9 Houston–Intercontinental, Texas 4,000 United
10 Miami, Florida 2,000 American

Southeastern regional cargo hub

In August 1996, the UPS Airlines-owned cargo airline opened an $80 million southeastern regional hub at the airport, one of six regional hubs throughout the United States. The hub offers next-day, second-day and third-day air service. The buildings encompass 352,000 square feet (32,700 m2) and the 44-acre (180,000 m2) ramp is large enough to hold 22 DC-8 aircraft. The hub can process 42,000 packages an hour. Other major air cargo companies serving the airport include ABX Air and FedEx Express.

Accidents and incidents

  • A Volpar 18 ( registration N47A [9]) crashed on February 26, 1971 while attempting to land at the airport. The aircraft crashed in poor visibility and fog while performing a missed approach, killing the pilot and 7 passengers. [10]
  • A Beechcraft C90 King Air (N711FC [11]) crashed on December 20, 1973 while attempting to land at the airport. The aircraft collided with trees after descending below minimum descent altitude in poor visibility. The pilot and a passenger were killed and another passenger was seriously injured. [12]
  • A Learjet 60 (N999LJ [13]) crashed on September 19, 2008 while attempting a rejected takeoff on runway 11, crashing instead into the hillside across a road beyond the end of the runway. Four people died in the accident, including the two pilots. The sole survivors were musicians Travis Barker of Blink 182 and DJ Adam Goldstein, who died a year later. [14]


  • The airport's two airplane runways measure 8,000 feet (2,400 m) and 8,600 feet (2,600 m) in length.
  • The airport runways can accommodate an airplane of any size, including the Boeing 747 and the military C-5A.
  • The airport contains its own police department, fire station, and post office (Air Mail Facility).
  • Decorative and semi-natural ponds bordering the sides of the airport terminal can be used by the airport fire department to put out fires.
  • The air traffic control tower is 105 feet (32 m) tall.
  • More than 1.1 million passengers travel through Columbia Metropolitan Airport each year.
  • More than 1,400 people work at the airport.

In popular culture


  1. ^ a b c d FAA Airport Master Record for CAE ( Form 5010 PDF), effective 2007-12-20
  2. ^ Harwell, Drew; Zezima, Katie (8 September 2015). "United Airlines chief steps down amid federal investigation" – via
  3. ^ "Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE)". Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  4. ^ Natural light pours into the Columbia Metropolitan Airport Archived 2005-09-03 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ airport section, history subsection
  6. ^ Archived 2014-02-21 at the Wayback Machine Columbia airport traffic increased in 2013
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b "OST_R - BTS - Transtats".
  9. ^ "FAA Registry (N47A)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  10. ^ National Transportation Safety Board. MIA71AM076
  11. ^ "FAA Registry (N711FC)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  12. ^ National Transportation Safety Board. MIA74AM049.
  13. ^ "FAA Registry (N999LJ)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  14. ^ "Crew in crash died of burns, smoke inhalation". 22 September 2008.

External links