In The News

Lincoln Journal Star: Fortenberry Urges Transportation Secretary Chao to Reinstate Suspended Service at Lincoln Airport

Jun 30, 2020
In The News

Passenger numbers jumped more than 300% at the Lincoln Airport in May compared with April, but they remained near historic lows. This comes amid concerns about the future of the airport's Delta service.

The airport reported 2,232 passengers in May, up from 705 in April. But that number was still 92% below May 2019. 

United Airlines had the bulk of the passenger traffic, with 1,963 fliers, down 89% from last year. The airline filled 22% of its available seats last month, up from only 8% in April.

Delta Air Lines, which suspended its Atlanta flight in March and plans to shut down its Minneapolis flight next month, had only 269 passengers in May, a 97% decline from a year ago. Its percentage of seats filled actually dropped slightly in May to 8%, down from 9% in April.

Lincoln fared a little worse than Omaha's Eppley Airfield, which had nearly 52,000 passengers in May, down 89% from a year ago.

National passenger statistics for May won't be released by the Department of Transportation until August, but daily screening numbers from the Transportation Security Administration suggest traffic is slowly improving and is down about 80% to 85% compared with last year at this time.

David Haring, executive director of the Lincoln Airport, said that he does not expect to see a rapid exponential recovery like what occurred in May, and so far, June numbers are similar to May numbers.

As of Monday, Haring said United had seen nearly 1,350 passengers this month, or almost 25 per flight. Delta, on the other hand, has only had about 170 passengers, or 11 per flight.

With the air travel situation so fluid and airlines constantly changing schedules and canceling flights, "at this time we do not believe we are in any sort of a recovery," he said.

Any potential Lincoln recovery will likely be complicated by the loss of Delta service, which accounted for about 37% of the airport's total passengers last year. The airline got permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend service at several smaller airports, including Lincoln. It recently announced that it will stop serving Lincoln as of July 8, and flights will not return until October at the earliest.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry last week sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expressing his "serious concerns" about the decision to allow Delta to stop serving the Lincoln Airport.

In the letter, Fortenberry wrote that the airport and the city "understand the need to make sacrifices in the short term to be able to achieve goals in the long term."

However, he noted that the loss of any air service is a "barrier to growth, or, in this case, recovery."

"While the department's actions to protect air carriers for the purpose of aiding in economic recovery is understood, it cannot be overlooked that those same actions remove a critical component in the efforts of communities such as Lincoln to actually recover," Fortenberry wrote.

"As national utilization of commercial air service begins to trend closer to reasonable expectations, I urge the Department to take any and all actions necessary to reinstate the suspended service as soon as practical, thus providing Lincoln and similar communities with vital resources to ignite a recovery," he wrote.

Haring agreed that a long-term Delta absence will likely hamper the Lincoln Airport's recovery.

"The suspension by Delta, if left in place long term, will certainly prove detrimental to our ability to aid in an economic recovery once we are on the other side of the pandemic," he said. "I would expect that some of the traffic utilizing Delta presently will look toward United, but I have also spoken to some Delta travelers who prefer to fly through Minneapolis vs. Chicago or Denver, so they would likely look at Omaha."


The article can be viewed HERE