Once swallowed whole by TWA, local Missouri favorite Ozark Air Lines flies again.
- By Nan Chase
- Air & Space magazine, January 2001
(Page 3 of 6)
The numbers declined steadily throughout the late 1980s and fell to a “devastating” 32,740 in 1991, Boston says. In 1994 there was a sharp increase thanks to service by Lonestar, a Texas feeder that flew to and from Dallas, but after that airline left the scene fewer and fewer passengers used the airport, which reached an all-time low of 24,537 passengers in 1999.
Boston knows the numbers backward and forward and what the patterns mean for Columbia, an adopted hometown that he and many others love for its charming combination of big-city attractions—a highly-regarded state university, top medical facilities, a booming economy—and small-town warmth and convenience; the population is about 80,000 and boasts a community of several hundred retired military folks.
After Ozark disappeared in 1986, the only alternative to riding a TWE Jetstream 31 turboprop to the St. Louis airport was to travel those same 100 miles on I-70, labeled by state officials as one of the most dangerous roads in Missouri. Because TWE’s Columbia service can be delayed whenever the weather at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport gets sloppy, many people make the roughly two-hour drive instead.
“The airport’s biggest competition is the interstate highway,” Boston explains. “Most people have come to an automatic thinking that you have to go to St. Louis to get anywhere.”
In short, getting anywhere from Columbia by air—or into Columbia, an important business consideration—took a lot of time.
Enter Wes Stricker, a 46-year-old physician, pilot, aircraft collector, and native of Missouri. “About three years ago I was coming back from Chicago and it struck me that it was just so hard to get there from here,” says Stricker. “We had a lot of business that had trouble getting to us. It just hit: We need a scheduled service to Chicago. No one else seemed to have an idea to do it.” Today, his company’s jet service to Chicago takes less than an hour; to Dallas-Fort Worth, just two.
“The word on the street was that you couldn’t start an airline in today’s environment,” says Stricker. “The FAA… gave us a lecture that only a very small percentage of people who applied for the air carrier certificate ever received it. It was a very dismal percentage.”
Stricker tapped 60-year-old John Ellis to become president of Ozark. Both men are Missouri natives, stubborn believers in Midwestern values like hard work and patriotism and community spirit. Stricker, a doctor’s son, worked his way to wealth as an allergist: Today he oversees six allergy treatment clinics in small Missouri towns and six research facilities that test drugs for FDA approval. Ellis and Stricker participated over the years in Columbia’s Memorial Day Weekend Salute to Veterans Celebration, a huge airshow that takes over the town for a few days every year. Both men perform—Ellis flies a Grumman F7F Tigercat, often in formation with a Navy F-14, and Stricker flies his P-51 Mustang.