Big things are on the horizon for the Central Nebraska Regional Airport, Executive Director Mike Olson said.
During the Grand Island Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday at Riverside Golf Club, Olson shared information about upcoming projects at the airport.
In 2003, there were 5,908 boardings at the airport. By 2013, that number had risen to 56,902, he said.
So far this year, the airport is about 800 boardings ahead of last year’s pace for the same time period, Olson said. Most of the increase is due to the daily American Eagle flights to Dallas/Fort Worth and the regular Allegiant flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix/Mesa.
The nonstop regional jet service has been renewed through June 2015. Olson said American personnel are happy with their daily flights from Grand Island, and Allegiant has added six flights in March.
Expansion plans for the passenger terminal began in 2008, and he said he will be discussing funding with the Federal Aviation Administration in Kansas City, Mo., today.
“We’re certainly excited about this,” Olson said of the terminal.
The current terminal is 10,000 square feet, while the new building will be 35,000 square feet. Architectural documents are about 90 percent complete, and he said they’d like to begin building in August or September.
The expansion will also include a jet bridge, which Grand Island hasn’t had before, Olson said.
“It will be really nice to have that,” he said.
Due to the terminal expansion, additional parking will be needed. Olson said 640 new parking spots have been added. Of those, 120 are east of Sky Park Road, with the remaining spots on the west side of the road. When the terminal is built, 150 spots will be lost, and parking is already tight. Olson said he counted 510 cars on the lot on Monday.
The big question that Olson said he has been getting is whether the parking will come with a fee once the new terminal is built. The answer, he said, is yes because free parking is lost revenue. He doesn’t believe having fee-based parking will cause the airport to lose its competitive edge. The prices haven’t been set, but Olson said they will likely be between $3 and $6 depending on where a person parks.
In addition to the terminal and the parking expansion, a five-unit aircraft hangar is being constructed. Olson expects it to be done in early May. Four of the five units have been filled, and someone is looking at the fifth, he said.
Trego-Dugan, the airport’s fixed-based operator, is also looking to get a new building. The current building is 53 years old, and they’d like to have a new facility, he said.
The Nebraska Army National Guard is also expanding its facility at the airport. It has added 93,000 square feet to the helicopter base and should be done with its construction soon, Olson said.
“They’re a great tenant. They give us some security, and they never ask me for anything,” he said with a laugh. “That’s a good tenant.”
Olson also quickly shared some numbers with the Rotarians. He said the airport’s 2013 annual economic impact on the community was $158 million, compared to $21,139,600 in 2003. A lot of that is due to the National Guard base, he said.
The airport has been voted Airport of the Year by the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. Olson sees that as a validation of his staff’s hard work. Further validation comes from the FAA Safety Enhancement Awards the airport received in 2007, 2010 and 2013.
“I can sleep well at night knowing this airport is run well,” he said.
Olson answered a few questions from the audience, including whether the airport will get flights to Florida.
“I’ve been trying to convince them of that for a long time,” he said of talks with Allegiant officials.
Olson said executives with the company don’t believe there’s a big enough market in the Grand Island area for such flights, and they are worried about taking away from their Las Vegas and Phoenix/Mesa destinations. Olson said he has argued that the clientele flying to Florida would be much different — families on vacation versus couples going to golf or gamble — and that the flights would pull from the Lincoln and Omaha areas.
“We’re working it, though,” he said. “Trust me, we haven’t given up.”
Olson said the parking lot is often full of cars from all around Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Iowa.
“People will drive a long ways for that $200 round-trip airfare,” he said.