Thursday, April 17, 2014

Western Nebraska Regional Airport (KBFF) still struggling with boarding numbers

Western Nebraska Regional Airport still struggles to meet boarding goals as the year progresses.

Great Lakes Airlines boarding numbers have been steadily dropping since October. Officials blame the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act, which went into effect on Aug. 1, 2013, along with other regulations, for causing pilot shortages and cancellations of flights.

With a total of 1,074 boardings over the past three months and 160 this month through April 15, the airport has seen only 112 flights at the airport this year. Airport Director Darwin Skelton said there are typically 2,300 to 2,500 boardings by this time.

Skelton said at his last count, there were close to 78 certified pilots serving Great Lakes, down from 340 pilots that were on staff before the change in flight regulations last year.

Skelton said the airport will be short of boardings required to qualify for $1 million in federal funding.

“There is no way that we are going to make 10,000 boardings, and financially that just absolutely kills us,” Skelton said.

Skelton said the short means the airport would get only $150,000 in federal safety funding. Skelton plans to ask Congress to give the airport a moratorium this year and allow it to use its 2013 boarding numbers for 2014.

“I believe Congress has made this mess, and they need to help us through it,” he said. “We are going to need some help.”

WNRA Board Chairman Don Overman said Great Lakes has indicated that 10 of its planes will be flying nine passengers, which eases the requirements for co-pilots and would open up the possibility of more flights.

“They (GLA) are doing the best job they can with the cards that were dealt to them by the United States Congress,” Overman said.

On Friday, the request for airline bid proposals on Essential Air Services for the airport will be issued. Skelton said he expects to hear back on those bids by the first of June. Depending on which companies bid, it could mean a new provider of air service to the airport. Great Lakes Airlines and possibly Sky West could apply, since both have shown an interest in the airport.

Skelton said that through local surveys the airport has conducted, he knows the airport is getting, at best, only 40 percent of the people who are flying. He would like to serve more people in the future.

“If we provide a service that’s regular, that is consistent, that people can count on, 25,000 people a year is well within reality for us,” Skelton said. “That is where we should be, and that’s where I want to be.”