Published Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:26 pm
World-Herald Editorial: Airport planning has taken flight

Thanksgiving week always brings the year’s biggest surge in airline travel. This year, around 3.1 million passengers nationwide were forecast to take to the air for Thanksgiving-week trips.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Travel Association reports that the long-term trend for our country’s biggest airports is for noticeably higher passenger numbers. The increased numbers will filter down to a considerable number of regional airports, the association projects.

Given this background, it’s encouraging that Omaha’s Eppley Airfield continues to serve the Omaha area well through efficient operations and sound long-range planning.

The 20-year planning document recently approved by the Omaha Airport Authority Board provides a good illustration. The plan prudently prepares for future growth as needed, but it doesn’t automatically commit the airport unless conditions warrant.

In the words of David Roth, Eppley’s director of strategic planning and engineering, “Everything is based on demand.”

As recent news coverage by The World-Herald’s Paige Yowell explained, the plan sets out three sets of expansion or construction projects, all dependent on when and whether passenger counts increase to certain levels.

The specific numbers: 4.8 million for phase one; 5.4 million for phase two; 7 million for phase three.

During 2012, Eppley served 4.1 passengers. That’s down from the airport’s high-water mark of 4.4 million passengers in 2007 and follows a general pattern for many U.S. airports in the wake of the Great Recession.

So, as Eppley officials note, it will take a while to begin hitting the higher thresholds.

At the same time, it makes a lot of sense for the airport authority to plan for prospective growth. One reason is Omaha’s economic vitality and growing national reputation. The airport needs to be ready to accommodate that growth.

In fact, it’s a mutual relationship: Omaha enjoys strong growth prospects in part because it is served by a well-run airport.

Multiple rankings have noted this area’s high quality of life and pro-growth business climate. In addition, the national spotlight routinely shines on Omaha as a host site for such national events as the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials and U.S. Figure Skating Championships, plus such hearty perennials as the College World Series and the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. These are strong indicators of long-term vitality for this region.

Sound long-term planning has demonstrated its value for Eppley in the past. The airport’s expansion to a total of 20 gates during the late 1980s — construction stretched over three years — was prudently planned. It provided capacity and flexibility that has served the Eppley well in the succeeding years.

That expanded capacity enabled the airport to accommodate major new needs for heightened security in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, for example.

Any airport faces considerable challenges, including rising fuel costs, competition among airports and the occasional jolts to passenger demands (such as the 2001 terrorist attacks and the recession). Airports earn much of their revenues by charging fees, but it’s a delicate matter in terms of an airport’s bottom line, since increasing the fees puts upward pressure on air fares.

A look at Omaha’s airport history provides particular reason to appreciate the businesslike way in which Eppley is run. In the mid-20th century, there was no Omaha airport authority — the airport was operated by the city government and used tax dollars to cover expenses. It was a recipe for ongoing argument and indecision.

Voters turned down revenue bond proposals for the airport three times running, and by the late 1950s Omahans were hotly divided about the best way to manage the facility.

The solution came when the City Council voted to create an appointed airport authority, removing airport operations from government control. Eppley obtained a $2.5 million revenue board, opened a new terminal in 1961 and set the course for operating thereafter in a businesslike manner. It was a landmark step forward for Omaha.

That spirit of practicality is reflected today in the airport authority’s new 20-year plan. Omaha should be well served if Eppley’s leaders continue that important tradition.

A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
After all his bluster and bravado in the courtroom, Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Gov. Heineman calls 2014 a 'very good year for Nebraska taxpayers'
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
Brothers looking for pot sentenced for violent home invasion
At Boys Town panel, experts stress it's never too early to educate children
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Arrest made in teen's shooting death at Benson's Gallagher Park
Section of 50th Street to close for bridge demolition
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
Plans for new $16M YMCA in Council Bluffs at 'critical juncture'
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
With fixed AC, Fort Calhoun's nuclear station ends brief shutdown
Windy day could make driving difficult on east-west roads
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Breaking Brad: Pothole repair crew gets stuck in a pothole
In East Lansing, Mich., a pothole repair crew got stuck inside a pothole. How did this not happen in Omaha?
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »