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Wed, Oct 01, 2008

Nebraska Officials Take Fresh Look At Intrastate Airline

Last Carrier To Try It Folded In 2005

Local municipalities subsidize commuter rail and buses all the time. Would it make sense for the state of Nebraska to subsidize intrastate airline service?

The Scottsdale Star-Herald reports nearly 30 people met at Western Nebraska Regional Airport to discuss a subsidized east-west "river run" airline service.

Commercial airline service from Scottsbluff to the Lincoln-Omaha area has been a loser in the past; Westward Airways was the last company to try, flying a small fleet of Pilatus PC-12s. It lasted from June 2004 until July 2005... when Westward stopped all service in Nebraska, as well as a handful of routes in New Mexico.

State Senator John Harms told attendees the sluggish economy makes it a bad time to ask for state monies, but suggested talking about the future. "I think the infrastructure is critical," he said. "I think it's extremely important that we start to address this issue."

Governor Dave Heineman agreed on the economic point, but suggested that both he and the state legislature would consider a unified and informative proposal from a task force.

The Nebraska State Airline Authority Act of 1990 created the Nebraska State Airline Authority, and defined a seven-member board to run it... but stopped short of funding the program. No members were ever appointed. Supporters say it's time.

State Senator Don Overman said many people drive a "hard six hours" from the panhandle region to Lincoln to participate in government, and that it would be much easier to fly. He added many people who make that drive are state employees, suggesting that economical airline service could save the state money.

The meeting ended in a decision to form a task force and undertake a feasibility study. Another meeting is set for October 15.



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