The Lincoln Airport has widened the scope of its search for flights to Texas.
The airport was awarded the $750,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant in 2018, with the stipulation that it be used to attract direct service to Dallas via American Airlines.
However, despite numerous discussions between the airport and the airline, the service has yet to materialize.
In light of that, Executive Director David Haring said the U.S Department of Transportation has agreed to amend the grant to allow Lincoln to pursue flights to any hub airport in Texas.
Haring said the airport had originally considered applying for a grant to target all of the state before eventually deciding to narrow its application to Dallas.
The grant would still be available to American Airlines, but amending it opens up the possibility of United Airlines, one of the airport's two existing carriers, utilizing it to offer service to Houston. It also could be used by Southwest Airlines to start service to either Dallas or Houston, where it has hub airports, although that seems much less likely.
The grant would serve as a revenue guarantee to any airline starting new service, helping to defray start-up costs and make up any revenue shortfalls during the first year. The airport also raised $500,000 in private donations as a local match to supplement the grant funds.
The original grant was good for four years, and Haring said the amendment did not extend the term, meaning it is scheduled to expire next year. However, he said he believes the Department of Transportation is open to extending it.
The Lincoln Airport was in the midst of a passenger traffic upturn before COVID-19 hit, ending 2019 with its best passenger numbers since 2007.
But the pandemic caused not only a huge drop in passengers, but also the suspension of flights. Delta Air Lines shut down Lincoln operations from July 2020 to May of this year, and it still has not reinstated its daily flight to Atlanta.
Delta is flying its Lincoln-to-Minneapolis route and United has service to and from Chicago and Denver.
Currently, passenger numbers are at their highest level since the start of the pandemic, but they are still about 40% lower than at the same time in 2019.
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