Omaha's Eppley Airfield draws passengers from Nebraska and surrounding states with such factors as ease of access, a central location, competitive fares and convenient flights.
This summer's Missouri River flooding has hurt that “ease-of-access” factor, at least for people who use Interstate 29 to reach the airport.
Since last month, easy I-29 access to Omaha has been blocked from the north and south, and access to Omaha via Interstate 680 has been cut off because drivers can't cross the Mormon Bridge.
That means many out-of-state travelers flying out of Omaha have had to take detours to reach Eppley. But whether that is prompting them to change their minds about Omaha as a departure point is another matter.
The number of passengers flying in and out of Eppley was down 2.7 percent in June, with 404,850 travelers compared with 415,914 last June. Through the end of last month, 2011 traffic through Eppley was down 0.3 percent.
“We're pretty much flat for the year,” said Steve Coufal, executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority.
Coufal doesn't think flooding problems have had much impact on people's travel plans out of Eppley, because most of the flights were probably booked before the flooding began.
“I think our numbers are a little more reflective of the general economy,” he said.
July numbers might be better indicators, he said, but many of those flights also were probably booked early.
Airports north of Omaha on I-29 are reporting more travelers — but on a much smaller scale.
The number of passengers who flew out of the airport in Sioux City, Iowa, in June was up 9.25 percent from last June — 2,527 compared with June 2010's 2,313, officials at that airport reported Monday.
Attributing that increase to access at Eppley “would be real tough,” said John Backer, operations director at the Sioux Gateway Airport.
Final June numbers aren't in yet for the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Regional Airport, said Richard King, its deputy director. But through May, he said, the number of people getting on planes there was up 17.8 percent compared with the first five months of 2010. The number, 33,746, who flew out of Sioux Falls in May was up 16.5 percent over last May's total.
“It's too early to say whether we can pin any passenger spike on the access to Omaha,” King said. But whatever the effect, he said, “it's going to be just a small blip on Omaha's radar screen.”
A Sioux City travel agent said she had rebooked flights for two customers concerned about getting to Eppley. Chriss Camenzend of Premier Travel & Cruise said one opted to fly out of Sioux Falls, and a family of five will fly out of Minneapolis. That family will spend more than $800 extra when figuring in the $150-per-ticket penalty and an overnight hotel stay in Minneapolis.
“They were actually very concerned that Eppley might have to close because of flooding,” Camenzend said. “They were concerned they wouldn't be protected.”
Eppley officials are spending millions of dollars on flood-control measures in an effort to keep the airport operating.
“I think most people who have already booked the travel would stick to the plan” to fly out of Omaha, Eppley's Coufal said.
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