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Boardings continue to challenge airport
January 10, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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Although Western Nebraska Regional Airport surpassed its needed 10,000 boardings in 2012 to qualify for federal funds, that number continues to be a yearly challenge.

The airport must board a minimum of 10,000 passengers a year to retain its primary airport status and also qualify for $1 million in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration. Airports that fall short receive $150,000 for the year.

“That million dollars ensures that we remain a primary airport,” said airport manager Darwin Skelton. “It allows us to get federal funding is we ever need to complete a major project.”
The federal funds cannot be used for day-to-day operations, but can be used for safety items such as equipment, lighting and for rehabbing runways.

Skelton said it’s always a challenge to meet the minimum 10,000 boardings by the end of each year. In 2010, the airport fell about 200 passengers short.

“Ideally it would be great if our Great Lakes flights provided about 9,500 of those passengers, but that doesn’t always happen” he said. “We try to supplement that with casino charters through Allegiant Airlines and boardings provided by the Eagle Med service.”

Skelton said the Eagle Med fixed-wing ambulance service has accounted for about 240 passengers in its first year at the airport. Those boardings can be counted toward the 10,000 required annual total.

Skelton said that with the upcoming project to expand the size of the TSA waiting area, Allegiant might increase its number of flights to include both Las Vegas and the Phoenix area.

Don Overman, board chairman for the Airport Authority of Scotts Bluff County, said the best remedy is for more people to use the airport for connecting flights to Denver.

“If you’re traveling with the family, it’s often easier to drive to Denver,” he said. “I think people will discover that if their time is worth anything, flying to Denver is cost effective. And the security screening here is more convenient than in major airports.”

Overman added that many cities the size of Gering and Scottsbluff have no airport at all, so the area is fortunate to have a facility.

This spring, the airport will begin a project to expand the secure seating area to accommodate up to 195 passengers. New restrooms will also be added.

“We’re a diversionary airport for Denver International,” Overman said. “If they have a backup of several flights, we need room to accommodate those passengers. At times, we’ve had as many as seven jets here waiting to continue on to Denver.”

In addition to the expansion, the airport is planning for secure ramps from the terminal to the airliners.
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