Jan. 13--Eppley Airfield recorded a sharp ascent in 2005 from the previous year's record number of passengers.
In 2005, more than 2.1 million passengers boarded flights at the Omaha airport, 8.6 percent more than in 2004. Total boardings and arrivals were more than 4.1 million.
The airport continued its climb back from difficult years, when a troubled economy worsened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The passenger record set in 2004 was Eppley's first since 2000.
"I'm extremely pleased that we continue to grow. That's quite a difference," said Don Smithey, executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority, which operates Eppley.
Eppley's results stand out in the region and in comparison to national passenger statistics.
Although year-end figures were not yet available for many airports, passenger boardings through November were up 2.8 percent nationwide, compared to the same period in 2004.
At Kansas City (Mo.) International Airport, passenger numbers for 2005 were expected to total about the same as in 2004, based on results through November, said spokesman Joe McBride. In 2004, KCI topped 5 million passengers.
"The local economy is not as strong as it could be and that translates to less business travel," McBride said. "We've had some belt-tightening in some local corporations."
Des Moines International Airport appeared likely to end the year with about 950,000 boardings, which would be about a 5 percent drop from 2004, which was a record year, a spokesman said.
Lincoln Airport recorded nearly 203,000 boardings in 2005, an 8 percent decrease from 2004.
The drop reflects the challenges of being a smaller airport and the loss of a major carrier -- American, said John Wood, executive director of the Lincoln Airport Authority.
Passenger numbers rose through the last half of the year, though, culminating in a busy holiday season, he said.
"We filled the parking lot a few times," he said.
With some early flights already sold out for Allegiant Airlines' service between Lincoln and Las Vegas that will begin in February, Wood sounded a hopeful note.
"That will help us recover some passengers we've lost over the last couple of years."
At Eppley, Smithey said 2006 could bring an increase of 3 percent to 5 percent in passengers. The same range was forecast for 2005.
Any increase, though, depends greatly on the health of the airlines, he said. Among Eppley's major carriers, all but one recorded an increase in total passengers served here.
United stayed nearly even, with a decrease of 0.6 percent. Among the double-digit increases for the year: America West/U.S. Airways, 26.4 percent; American, 19.5 percent; and Continental, 13.7 percent.
Southwest, Eppley's largest carrier, recorded a 10.8 percent increase and served nearly a million total passengers in Omaha.
Smithey said he will continue to try to attract new carriers to Eppley, as well as encouraging its current airlines to add service.
"We're seeing the emergence of two strong carriers, JetBlue and AirTran. We can accommodate those carriers, and I will continue to pursue them."
The three flights still will stop in St. Louis, but passengers will continue on the same plane.
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