Lincoln Airport seeks grant to attract southbound flight
A Delta aircraft, the first to fly from Lincoln to Atlanta, is refueled by a Duncan Aviation employee at Lincoln Municipal Airport on June 4, 2009. (LJS file)
The Lincoln Airport is going to take another crack at trying to get a southbound flight.
Airport Executive Director John Wood said the airport would submit an application Friday for a federal Small Community Air Service Development program grant.
The grants, which come from the Department of Transportation, essentially provide a revenue guarantee to help subsidize an airline that starts new service.
Wood said Lincoln plans to seek $500,000 of the $7 million that is available this year.
If the airport’s application is successful, Wood said the money would be used to try to get southbound air service, either from an existing carrier or a new one. The grant would require a 10 percent local match – $50,000 – that must come from a source other than the airport.
The airport’s top three targets for service are Memphis, Dallas and Houston.
“We’ll pursue those with or without the grant,” Wood said, “but the grant would make it easier to talk them into it.”
Lincoln had service to Memphis on Northwest Airlines for about nine months in 2005, a route that was subsidized by a $900,000 grant.
The airline at the time said the flight didn’t draw an “economically viable” mix of customers.
Northwest has since merged with Delta Air Lines, which last summer briefly provided the only other southbound service Lincoln has had in recent memory.
That once daily-flight to Atlanta was more than 80 percent full on average, but Delta ended it after less than three months.
Despite that flight’s success, a consultant recently told the airport that service to Memphis would be more viable because the shorter distance would give the flights a better chance to be profitable.
Houston could be a possibility once United and Continental Airlines finalize their merger, which was announced earlier this year. United flies out of Lincoln to Chicago and Denver and might be willing to try flights from the airport to former Continental destinations, including Houston.
A Dallas flight would be provided by American Airlines, which does not fly out of Lincoln.
A southbound flight might help the airport reverse its decade-long slide in passenger numbers. Year-over-year passenger counts have dropped nine out of the past 10 years, and through July, passenger traffic is down 5 percent this year compared with 2009.
Wood said he should know by late this year or early next whether Lincoln is chosen for one of the grants.
Reach Matt Olberding at 402-473-2647 or molberding.
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