Business View Magazine interviews David Haring, Executive Director of Lincoln Airport, for our focus on General Aviation in the U.S.
Situated five miles northwest of downtown Lincoln, Nebraska the Lincoln Airport is the second largest airport in the State, and one of the 25 largest airports in the U.S. in terms of land size. Lincoln Airport (LNK) covers an impressive 5500 acres and has three paved runways – the longest, measuring 12,901 feet. Lincoln Airport began life in the early 1920s and is legendary as one of the places where Charles Lindbergh learned to fly and the first place he took lessons.
Today, airport officials are moving forward with a massive terminal renovation and expansion project with a goal of changing the perception of flying from Lincoln. Airport Authority members voted unanimously to approve a guaranteed maximum construction price and to authorize the issuance of up to $56 million in bonds to pay for the project.
Business View spoke with David Haring, A.A.E, Executive Director of Lincoln Airport; Rachel Barth, C.M., Director of Communications and Customer Engagement; and Chad Lay, Director of Planning & Development, about the last two ‘COVID’ years at the airport and the exciting terminal project now underway.
BVM: Can you describe how Lincoln Airport contributes to the local economy?
Haring: “Our airport is a little unique in that we’ve got such a large industrial park component. We obviously serve the traditional way, where we’re connecting people to loved ones and leisure activities and business connections through commercial flights, and likewise through general aviation.
“But we also serve as a true economic resource and driver from the standpoint of providing needs for development, and additional sources of dollars and job creation to the local economy. Our 1000-acre park is one of the largest in the Midwest, certainly, one of the largest at an airport. The other way we connect is to be an active member of the community beyond just economic development and being an airport.”
Barth: “One of the big benefits of having the industrial park is that it’s helping us ride that wave of the pandemic this past year. We have some really great tenants that actually grew and are looking for more space. We have just over 300 lease agreements in total at the airport, so we have a big impact on the community and we’re proud of that.”
BVM: How have you engaged with the community during the pandemic?
Barth: “In the past year, we started showing some drive-in movies. I had the idea to make use of an old Cold War hangar on the west side of the airport and we projected movies up on the side of the building and invited the community to come. We started that at the end of 2020, just to give people a reason to leave their house for a bit. During the pandemic they were stuck in their homes, no school, working remotely, so we tried out the movies and it went over really well. Tickets were free, but once we posted them they were gone within hours, so I knew I was on to something. We spaced cars out so everyone had their own space and felt safe.
“And we got approval to continue with it. I had to work with the city to get permits and I’ve been working with local vendors. We made it bigger in 2021 and invited more local food trucks, which helps support them with an extra source of income. A Midwest company that does movie production provided the technical equipment. We also worked with other community groups and overall we hosted six movies in 2021 and had over 3400 people come to those events. It was really cool to see kids, grandparents, football teams and couples utilize the movies. Actually, it was so popular that some businesses contacted us to do private movies for their employees. It’s a COVID-friendly event, so for those who are hesitant to be around big groups of people, drive-in movies are the perfect outdoor solution. It also gave us as the airport an opportunity to show off the west-side of LNK which the public hardly ever sees and to talk about all the exciting things we have going on.”
BVM: Does the airport have partnerships to promote tourism?
Barth: “We’ve always been involved with our Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Independent Business Association, really increasing those sponsorships this past year. As well as connecting with organizations such as the local Rotary and Kiwanis groups and giving presentations to promote the airport and to discuss the new terminal. We also started partnering with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic department, so now we’re proud partners of Husker Athletics. That gives us another avenue to promote the airport. To be able to brand with them and do events really helps elevate who we are and our reach to anybody who follows Husker sports. It also gives fans the ability to fly in to Lincoln for games. Last year, United Airlines added some special football flights, so fans from other Big 10 colleges could come in and vice versa, the Husker sports teams also use LNK to fly to most of their away games.
“We just won the Lincoln Tourism Development Award, which we’re really proud of. We received it not only because of aviation, but for all the other things that our airport does to support tourism in our community.”
Haring: “We work closely with Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau, and their big news is that Lincoln was just selected to host the Blue Angels for an air show in 2023. We’re always really excited when the Blue Angels are here – that event will bring in about 250,000 people over a two-day period. The SCCA Solo National finals are also held here at Lincoln Airport which brings in thousands of people, so there is a lot happening at the airport, outside of flying aircraft.”
BVM: Tell us about the exciting new terminal project…
Haring: “It’s about a $56 million project – the largest single project that the airport has done in its history. The terminal has been discussed in some fashion for over two decades. It was built in 1974, so as time has gone by things needed to be addressed, and the events of 9/11 certainly exacerbated that issue. It just wasn’t designed with TSA and checkpoint regulations in mind. That’s where the conversation started.
“We realized pretty quickly that there wasn’t a short-term fix. Every time we tried to fix one of the core problems, we created two more problems. So we ended up planning for what the terminal should look like for the next 30 years. There is not a single aspect of the terminal that is not going to be touched as part of this project. We’re completely redoing the main lobby, we’re going to a single checkpoint, expanding the building to both the north and the east, adding some gate hold space because we believe there are opportunities on the horizon that would require that. Basically focused on how to create an environment that is much more passenger amicable. In other words, enhancing flow with better amenities in the right location.”
Chad Lay, Director of Planning & Development
Lay: “As the project manager, I’m elbow deep in it right now as we work through the interim phases to continue to let construction take place, while keeping flights running in and out. We are just getting into the core of the construction project now. Most of the work we’ve completed to date has been tearing things down, isolating space that we can dedicate to the construction effort… it’s really been deconstruction, so far.
“We’ve removed a lot of pavement and a couple of jet bridges, and we’ve stripped some of the interior space down to the rafters. We’re getting ready for the next phase, which is beginning the new construction. In fact, footings and foundations are now being installed for the new structure. It’s very exciting after years of planning and design, to finally get the contractors on board, everything mobilized and underway, and see the new facility start to take form.”
BVM: Looking ahead, what are the key goals for airport infrastructure?
Haring: “We hope to open the terminal to passengers at the end of next year, Dec. 2022, but there will still be a six-month period where we’re under construction. That will be the reestablishment of the administrative offices.
“There are also possibilities on the horizon for hangar growth. We are in need of additional GA hangars, specifically the larger, corporate-size hangars for housing business jets. Chad is working aggressively with the FAA to determine where we might be able to accommodate ramp space for that and then the actual construction of those hangars. That will be a big push on our part.
“We are also coming up on a significant need to do something with our primary runway. It is just shy of 13,000 feet and requires some repair. We are working with the FAA and our military partners on that because it serves as a critical asset in the military infrastructure, as well, as the home for the 155th – which is a refueling wing of the Nebraska National Guard. Next to the terminal, that is the most significant challenge we have on the horizon from an infrastructure perspective. We have a lot to look forward to. ”