McCOOK, Nebraska -- An essential air service bill that passed in the U.S. Senate earlier this week has ensured that McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport will continue commercial air service for at least two more years, but in order to guarantee service beyond that at least one member of the Airport Advisory Commission believes increasing the number boarding locally must be a priority.
"It's simply a matter of revenue," said commission member Richard Stull, Thursday afternoon, during a regularly scheduled meeting at Heritage Senior Center. Stull explained that if enplanements continued to decrease it was inevitable that it would eventually not be profitable for a commercial airline to service the airport.
Fourth quarter 2011 enplanements at the McCook airport, which only tracks commercial air service, represented the worst quarter of the year, ending at a 23 percent decrease from prior year.
Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff pointed out that the fourth quarter appeared worse than it was because fourth quarter of 2010 recorded an increase of 42 percent over 2009. The three year average wasn't far off according to Potthoff.
2011 enplanement were reported at 1785, down from the 1950 reported in 2010, but still an increase over the 1656 reported in 2009.
McCook City Manager Jeff Hancock told the Gazette that his staff is hopeful they will have increased activity at the airport, including on the general aviation side of the business. "An airport is an economic engine for the community and the area," said Hancock, who added that the essential air service bill that passed also included some opportunities for funding assistance on capital improvement projects at the airport, which could help stimulate activity.
During the meeting Potthoff provided an update to the commission pertaining to the new wildlife fence to be built at the airport. Potthoff said the contractor in charge of construction of the fence had moved materials onto the site and should begin work soon.
The project will be a welcome site to city staff, who have been tasked with patrolling the airport runways prior to every commercial flight to ensure the absence of wildlife.
The wildlife patrols, which often occur in the evening and on weekends, have been required since mandated by a FAA assessment report in early 2011.
In addition to the advent of the patrols the FAA assessment initially required the McCook airport to build an estimated $1.7 million 12 foot fence with barbed wire on top and a four foot below ground barrier. The scope and price of the project drew criticism from seasoned pilots and city staff alike and was scaled back significantly by the end of 2011. In November the McCook City Council approved a change order to the project that set the final price at $543,456.
The majority of the expense of the fence has been approved to be covered by grants, the city will be responsible for a little more than $26,000.