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Airport security

Passengers for early morning flights departing from the Lincoln Airport line up to go through security at opposite ends of the terminal last October. Through the first six months of the year, passenger traffic at the airport is up 16% compared with the same period in 2018.

It's been a year since the Lincoln Airport secured a $750,000 federal grant to help it attract additional air service.

The airport had targeted American Airlines, hoping it would start new service from Lincoln to Dallas.

That hasn't happened yet, nor have the airport's existing airlines, United and Delta, stepped forward to add more service.

Despite that, the airport has seen a resurgence of passengers.

Through the first six months of the year, passenger traffic at the airport is up 16% from last year.

If those strong numbers continue through the end of the year, it would be the biggest one-year percentage gain in passenger numbers since 1992, bigger even than the 13% surge in 2014, which is the year Delta started service to Atlanta.

Executive Director David Haring said a combination of factors is at play in the increase, but the biggest factor by far is airlines offering more seats.

United has added more than 2,000 seats per month on average compared with last year, while Delta has kept its number of seats steady.

"Throughout history, Lincoln has responded every time capacity has been added into the market," Haring said.

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The growth "has been great to see, and we hope to keep it going," he said.

In United's case, load factor, or the percentage of seats occupied on each flight, has been higher than last year three out of six months so far this year even though there are thousands more seats.

That has led to a 30% increase in passengers year-to-date for the airline. Delta, on the other hand, has seen steady passenger counts that are down less than 1%. But its load factor has been higher four out of six months.

While the growth without adding an airline has been impressive and to some degree unexpected, Haring said it has been "frustrating" that the airport has yet to secure a commitment from American to start service to Dallas.

He said he's been told by American officials that Lincoln remains "high up on the list" of cities for potential expansion.

Despite that, Haring said he feels it's unlikely a Dallas flight would begin any earlier than next spring.

The one positive of that development is that it gives the airport a little more time to contemplate improvements it needs to modernize its aging terminal, including consolidating its two security checkpoints into one.

The cost of the improvements has been estimated at as much as $20 million.

Haring said he expects the airport to have a plan on terminal improvements ready in the next few months and work to take place within the next two years.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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