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The Lincoln Airport Authority flies under the radar when it comes to elected boards.

Despite overseeing an annual budget of $30 million and having the ability to levy property taxes (though it hasn't since the 1980s), the five-person board gets little interest or scrutiny from the public or the media.

It's also not usually a position that candidates use as a steppingstone to higher office.

This year, one seat is open on the Airport Authority and two candidates are running. 

The incumbent, Nick Cusick, has served on the board for seven years, having been appointed to fill an unexpired term in 2012 and winning reelection in 2013. Aurang Zeb, who owns a painting company and a couple of other small businesses, is running for office for the first time.

In the primary election in April, Cusick drew 73% of the votes.

The Journal Star asked both candidates about air service, passenger numbers, modernization of the terminal, the airport's industrial park and other issues, including why they want to serve.

Cusick said his position as a business executive and frequent flier has allowed him to see "the impact that air service has on both the economic vitality of Lincoln and our quality of life."

And he said he is running for another term because he believes his more than seven years of experience on the board and his knowledge of Lincoln and Lancaster County "can continue to be of value to the Lincoln Airport Authority and my fellow citizens."

Zeb said he is running for an Airport Authority seat "to make a difference and to help my community."

When it comes to air service at the Lincoln Airport, which has seen an increase in passengers this year after declines the past couple of years, Zeb favors a focus on travel agencies and convention centers.

"By reaching out to travel agencies and convention centers we can encourage usage of our airport and by doing so help one another prosper," he said.

One of Zeb's ideas is to try to get direct charter service to Las Vegas.

Cusick said his years on the board have shown him how little control the airport has over air service.

He said bankruptcies and consolidations in the industry since 2001 have left airlines, "holding all the cards when it comes to issues of airports serviced, routes, fares, schedules, plane size, baggage handling and fees and other aspects of air service."

"The best thing that (the Airport Authority) can do other than proactively stay in touch with all airlines is to continue to encourage Lincoln-area residents to always check Lincoln first when they are booking a flight."

The airport over the past year has been discussing moves to modernize the terminal — specifically consolidating its two security checkpoints into one.

Both candidates agree that is a good idea but that budget concerns need to be taken into account.

Cusick said the airport is one of few in the country that has not done major terminal renovations to better accommodate Transportation Security Administration screenings as well as its Precheck program.

"Currently, terminal renovation studies are underway not only to enhance TSA capacity but also to modernize our 47-year-old facility," Cusick said. "A budget and funding source have not yet been established, but I would expect this issue to reach a point of decision in the next year and would become an even higher priority if we were able to attract a new airline and added flights."

Zeb said a consolidated security checkpoint is "important and beneficial to the airport to ensure safety."

"Modernizing the terminal will be decided by the Lincoln Airport Authority Board of Directors with budget information," he said.

While passenger service is important, another important aspect of the airport is its industrial park, LNK Enterprise.

Zeb said the industrial park is vital to the airport's bottom line and he feels there is room for expansion that could help bring more employment to Lincoln.

Cusick noted that without revenue from the industrial park, the Airport Authority likely would not have been able to forgo levying a property tax for the past 30-plus years.

Though existing buildings in the park are more than 90% occupied, he said, the Airport Authority, "continues to seek opportunities to enhance use of vacant land and buildings" while also trying to "minimize direct competition with local private sector landlords and tenants."

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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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