Regulatory requirements, infrastructure, and other investments have been designed or recently deployed with the safety of travelers in mind. Notably, these initiatives are supporting or affecting the talent that drives the movement of citizens and goods from point “A” to point “B.”
CDL Requirements Change
In a February press release, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) stated that entry-level drivers subject to Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) must complete required training from a registered training provider before obtaining a CDL for the first time.
At the time of the announcement, the administration had launched its training provider registry as the “final step in implementing new entry-level driver training standards for individuals seeking to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or certain endorsements.”
Executive Director and Chief Safety Officer Jack Van Steenburg was quoted as saying: “With an increasing number of people applying for CDLs over the past year, there has never been a more important time to implement minimum uniform training standards that ensure new drivers have both the knowledge and skills to operate safely.
“The ELDT regulations were developed with input from driver and training organizations, motor carriers, state licensing agencies, safety advocacy groups, and insurance companies. The Training Provider Registry will efficiently connect training providers, entry-level drivers, and State Driver Licensing Agencies to promote compliance with these essential safety regulations.”
When asked about the impact the requirements will have on the industry, Luke Busskohl, president and CEO with Arrow Stage Lines, noted that “in a market where it is difficult to hire new motorcoach operators, this regulation makes it even harder (and more costly) for an individual to obtain a CDL license.”
Leadership with the Nebraska Trucking Association expressed similar sentiments to local media outlets, with President and CEO Kent Grisham reportedly questioning the effect of the entry-level CDL training amid persistent driver shortages.
The association has developed a micro-site with a list of commonly-asked questions about ELDT and answers to aid new drivers getting registered.
CDL Process Clarification
Upon consulting with team members at the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, Public Information Officer Nick Gebhart said its offices have “received significantly more questions” about the ELDT rule as compared to other federal regulation changes.
“It seems to have caused a lot of confusion for both new and veteran drivers,” he said. “Many mistakenly believe this is a new state initiative,” he said. “It’s important to remember that this is a new federal regulation; thus, the Nebraska DMV can’t answer most questions about this federal program.”
Back in December, the Nebraska DMV got ahead of the rule that would go into effect a few months later with its own announcement about the federal rule. Partly, the DMV noted that training providers (required to become approved Driver Training Schools) should begin applying as soon as possible due to an approval process of up to one month.
Administrator of the Driver Licensing Services Division, Sara O’Rourke, said “this new rule will make a significant impact on those who want to obtain a CDL as well as CDL training providers.”
“It is important to remember that anyone who currently has a CDL will not be required to receive this training, unless they someday apply for an upgraded CDL class or a passenger (P), school bus (S), or hazardous materials (H) endorsement,” she said.
When asked about other adjustments the Nebraska DMV has had to make, Gebhart said CDL skills test appointments can’t be made unless the driver has met ELDT requirements.
“So, new programming had to be set up to verify a driver is eligible to test,” he said. “So many training providers were approved on a federal level that the Nebraska DMV has had to devote significant man hours contacting to determine if they also would fall under state requirements for Driver Training Schools that charge a fee in return for services.”
He also explained that additional procedures had to be put in place to assist drivers taking the hazardous materials knowledge test for the first time.
“An email address was created and placed on our website (dmv.nebraska.gov) for these drivers to request checking for proof of ELDT before they came into one of our testing offices,” he said.
As expressed by the FMCSA, Gebhart said that the intent of ELDT regulations has been to improve traffic safety and to have better-trained truck and bus drivers operating on the public roadways.
“Clearly the biggest misconception involves when the Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) can be issued,” he said, when asked about the biggest areas of confusion that have been encountered by the DMV.
Preparing for EV
When asked about other broad industry changes slated to have the biggest effect on the company and industry over the nearer term, Arrow’s Busskohl responded with “the electrification of vehicles.”
As reported by the International Energy Agency, electric vehicles (EVs) are hitting growth milestones with each passing year, with global sales doubling in 2021. Electric utilities have responded in kind with the likes of grid modernization and charging infrastructure investments.
Yet, still the talent to power such vehicles has been described by Busskohl as “limited at best.”
“We have a high need for motorcoach operators and it’s hard to hire to keep up with demand due to a shortage of qualified applicants,” he said.
To creatively address labor challenges, Busskohl said the company has focused a lot on “culture” — building a good environment for its team members — and on increasing pay.
“All the team members at Arrow Stage Lines strive every day to be safe, humble, hungry (always growing), and people smart,” he said.
Following a two-year suspension (due to the impacts of COVID-19), Chief Information and Development Officer Steve McCoy said the Omaha Airport Authority resumed design efforts on the Terminal Modernization Program (TMP) for Eppley Airfield.
“A component of the airport’s needs-based master plan, the Terminal Modernization Program will expand and modernize the terminal facilities for travelers flying out of Eppley Airfield,” he explained. “Components of the program include a new centralized security checkpoint, expanded and enhanced terminal concessions, and a single unified concourse.”
Design, he added, will continue into 2023, with some early construction possible by the end of that year. Significant TMP-related construction could begin in 2024, with a roughly 48-month construction timeline.
Expanded Travel Options
Formerly, in May 2021, McCoy had highlighted how the U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened a Global Entry Enrollment Center at Eppley Airfield, which he described as a “big win for business and leisure travelers throughout the whole state of Nebraska.”
“Global Entry allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon entering the U.S. and also gives travelers access to the TSA PreCheck program,” he said. “Since the opening of the Global Entry Enrollment Center at Eppley Airfield, demand for the program has remained high, as this service has proven quite popular with the local travel community.”
Late last year, McCoy said American Airlines added their seventh nonstop destination from Omaha with new flights to LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
“American becomes the second airline to fly nonstop to LaGuardia from Eppley Airfield, joining Delta Air Lines in connecting Omaha with New York City,” he said. “These flights increase the availability of access to one of the most important business markets and a popular tourist destination.”
In general, McCoy indicated the metro has been an attractive destination for airlines as “Omaha’s economy has always been very stable, driven by the local business climate.”
“As a result, demand for both outbound and inbound travel has historically proven relatively strong,” he said. “Airlines have continued to invest in our community with nonstop flights, larger aircraft and increased schedules.”
As of March, a reported 371,000 passengers flew in and out of Eppley Airfield, supported by the spring break travel period.
“While 44% higher than March of 2021 when COVID-19 vaccines began to become available for travelers, that total is still 16% less than pre-pandemic levels from March 2019,” McCoy said.
For the first three months of the year, Eppley has seen 950,000-plus passengers.
“Year-to-date passengers are outpacing 2021, although it still lags what was experienced in the first three months of 2019,” he said. “As post-pandemic travel demand continues to recover, we anticipate passenger activity will increase over time.”
Gearing Up for Summer
At the time of this writing, the airfield was gearing up for one of its peak travel seasons.
“Passenger activity is boosted locally by summer vacation travelers along with visitors arriving in Omaha for key events in our community, such as the College World Series,” he said. “As people get used to traveling again, we expect strong travel demand at Eppley Airfield, led by the leisure travel segment.”
McCoy reminds readers that as demand continues to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, the terminal is seeing higher activity, especially during peak times. So, the Omaha Airport Authority is encouraging travelers to arrive no less than two hours prior to their departure to allow time for parking, check-in, and the security screening process.
“The flyOMA.com website and the flyOMA smartphone app both include parking availability, flight information, and security checkpoint wait times to assist passengers in planning their travel experience from Eppley Airfield,” he said.
He also mentioned that work is continuing on airport access, parking modernization and terminal entrance roadway expansion projects.
“Later this summer, a new roadway entrance to the Eppley Airfield terminal will open off Abbott Drive as a part of this project,” McCoy said. “Additionally, the South Garage Restoration Project continues with a modernization that includes wider parking stalls, improved lighting, and enhanced signage and wayfinding for vehicle circulation. A new express ramp will provide direct access to Level 3 of the South Garage where the Premier Parking area will be relocated for the most convenient access to the terminal.”
And, last but not least, while McCoy said the federal government no longer mandates the wearing of face masks in airports such as Eppley Airfield, masks remain optional for all travelers.
“We would encourage our customers to continue to check on health guidelines with their airline and at their final location,” he said.