Plans for some Eppley Airfield projects could stay on shelf awhile

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Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:00 am

With Eppley Airfield's annual passenger counts at about 4million now, how likely is it that the airport will see 7 million passengers by 2030?

The Omaha Airport Authority Board's newly approved 20-year master plan phases in projects based on a forecast of rising passenger counts, including 4.8 million for the phase one projects, 5.4 million for phase two and 7 million for phase three.

But rising fuel costs, less competition in the industry and decreased passenger demand because of a tough economy all have forced airlines to become more disciplined business operations, decreasing available seats and flights at many medium hub airports like Eppley.

A May report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's International Center for Air Transportation showed that medium hubs such as Eppley and Kansas City International Airport saw, on average, a 26 percent decrease in scheduled flights and a 21.5 percent decrease in scheduled passenger seats from 2007 through 2012.

However, available seats are up as of last month, said Chris Martin, Eppley's director of operations.

“The available seats have been down for most of the year, picked up in September and they are continuing to rise ... right through the end of the year,” Martin said.

The more seats, the more chances travelers have to score a lower fare, which can translate to increased demand.

The third phase of the master plan is not expected to be needed until about 2030, and even that is an early estimate, said David Roth, Eppley's director of strategic planning and engineering.

“All of those core functions, concessions, restaurants and shopping areas would be built out in (phase two), and (phase three) in a sense just gives us more gate capacity so you can park more aircraft at the gate,” Roth said.

While the plan is meant to project the next 20 years, it's likely to stretch beyond that because it is based on passenger demand.

“I would suspect that this will span out longer than the 20 years,” Roth said, based on recent passenger counts.

Martin said the airport is also talking regularly with airlines that currently serve Omaha and those that do not in an effort to capture more flights, seats and new destinations.

“If they're already here, add flights, and if you're not here yet, we'd love to have you,” he said.

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