Passengers traveling through the Central Nebraska Regional Airport will be required to pay for parking beginning Jan. 16.

The Hall County Airport Authority voted 4-0 to approve a resolution authorizing the paid parking and its fees.

Airport Executive Director Mike Olson said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that the first 90 minutes of parking are free. The fee will be $3 a day to park in the west lot located west of Sky Park Road and $5 a day to park in the east lot near the airport terminal. Olson said it is free to park in both lots the seventh day.

Olson added that if a passenger parks and leaves before Jan. 16, they will not have to pay for parking. However, if they park before Jan. 16 and leave on Jan. 16 or later, they will be required to pay for parking.

“All of the payments will be processed and automated,” he said. “This is a complete operating system. Cash and credit card payments will be accepted at the kiosk equipment. Passengers will need to have their entrance ticket in order to pay at the kiosk. Credit card payments are accepted at the exit lanes to exit the parking lots. Cash is not accepted once you get into this building (airport terminal).”

Olson said airport staff did some research to figure out the paid parking rates. He added the $3 and $5 parking fees are “basically unheard of” in the airline industry. The rates are cheaper than the airports in Lincoln and Omaha, Olson said, as the least expensive parking is $6.50 a day in Lincoln and $6 a day for remote parking lots in Omaha.

Olson added that in the remote lots in Omaha, a shuttle is required to make it to the airport, which could lead to increased travel time for passengers. For these reasons, he said he does not believe the Central Nebraska Regional Airport will lose its competitive advantage to Lincoln or Omaha due to implementing paid parking.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Olson provided some history on how the airport authority made its decision to implement paid parking. He said over the past 10 years the airport has been successful in recruiting additional air service to and from Grand Island, which is reflected in its boarding numbers.

In 2008, the airport boarded around 9,000 passengers. The airport boarded more than 69,000 passengers in 2016.

Olson added one question the airport has gotten in regards to paid parking is “why now?” He said the airport authority and airport staff have put the decision on hold for the past three years. Olson said the airport believes now is the time to implement paid parking to keep property taxes in check.

He added the Central Nebraska Regional Airport is supported by the taxpayers of Hall County and that by implementing a user-based fee, the airport is being responsive to the concerns of Hall County citizens regarding property tax increases.

“Over the past few years, we conducted multiple parking lot surveys that told us 83 percent of the vehicles parked in our lots come from outside of Hall County,” Olson said. “It was determined that paid parking could provide a new revenue source to offset our increased operating expenses.”

Following a question about what the revenue from paid parking would be used for, Olson said: “For the terminal, the cost per square foot for utilities is about 30 to 35 percent less than the old terminal. However, we have more utility costs due to having more square footage. The facility we are in right now represents the front door to Grand Island and we want to continue to make sure it continues to look and function as we would like it to.”

Olson also shared the questions the airport authority and airport staff asked themselves regarding the decision to go to paid parking. He said they put themselves in the passenger’s frame of mind in going forward with the decision.

Olson said the airport believes there are already passengers from Grand Island and Hall County who are dropped off at the terminal and there may be more dropped off in the future due to paid parking. However, he emphasized only 17 percent of the vehicles that park in the airport’s parking lots are from Hall County.

Another question Olson said the airport gets asked is whether people will have to pay for parking if they are eating at Afternooner’s or only visiting the airport for a brief period of time.

“We encourage people to continue to come out to the airport, enjoy a meal at Afternooner’s, come out for special events, attend celebrations like the Hero Flight Welcome Home, or to pick up or drop off family or friends at the airport,” he said. “This is why we offer airport visitors the first 90 minutes of parking at no charge.”

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