Fresh off a record year, the Central Nebraska Regional Airport is getting a new terminal, but it can't come soon enough. Airport Director Mike Olson says, "We need a new terminal yesterday." It won't be done tomorrow, or even next year. But when it does open in 2015, the new terminal will have modern comforts as they move out of cramped quarters and the outdoor passenger ramp. Olson said, "Just because we're Grand Island doesn't mean we can't have some features you see out of Dallas or Denver on a smaller scale. For example, we'll have a jet bridge which will be nice." This small airport had a big year in 2012, it's biggest ever, with 56,059 passengers. That marks a 19 percent increase over the previous year's boardings of 47,090 in 2011.
The previous record of 52,000 was set back in the year of the twisters, 1980, and stood for 32 years. "And last month alone we had over 6,000 boardings," Olson said. "It was a record month to end a record year."
A few years back, the airport conducted surveys which showed 97 percent of people in the area used the Omaha airport. Now around 70 percent do.
More passengers are choosing to fly from Grand Island twice weekly to Las Vegas and Phoenix/Mesa on Allegiant and nonstop multiple times a day to Dallas. "Sure appreciate going into Dallas," farmer Mike Lowry said. From his home in Cairo, through security and on his way, Lowry will be in Dallas by the time he could drive to Omaha. And for now, Grand Island has other benefits. Lowry said, "It's nice to get free parking for the time being and it saves a couple hours travel time." Some amenities will go away, including free parking.
The airport plans to spends $27 million over the next four years on the terminal and an expanded runway.
Officials say that's a small trade off for better facilities and better service. "At the end of the day we're growing and we have to keep up," Olson said.
The federal subsidy going to American Eagle comes up for bid soon.
The airport in Joplin, Missouri has an almost identical arrangement with American Airlines and this month renewed its deal, using less government money because passenger counts were up there.
That's also Grand Island's dream, to not need federal dollars and become self sufficient.
Grand Island would also like add another route to the east, without subsidies.