NOLS Administrator Bruce Palmer relayed his company's concern over flight cancellations at Riverton Regional Airport. (Ernie Over photo)

NOLS Marketing and Admissions Director Bruce Palmer relayed his company’s concern over flight cancellations at Riverton Regional Airport to the airport board last Friday. Listening are Dawn Wilhelm, acting Public Works Director and Airport Operations Manager Paul Griffin. (Ernie Over photo) 

Part Two of Three parts

(Riverton, Wyo.) – When Riverton’s Airport Board met last Friday morning, one customer representing up to some 20 percent of all boardings at the airport was there to express “grave concerns” about the unreliability of flights into and out of Riverton.

“We move 1,160 students into Lander each year, ” said National Outdoor Leadership School Marketing and Admissions Director Bruce Palmer. “The vast  majority of those come through the Riverton airport. Additionally, we have between 120 and 150 instructors travel to this location annually, and of our staff from Lander, we have seven travelers who make 10 trips a year plus some 7o trips for marketing and administrative personnel.” Palmer said in order for the school to function, “it’s important to have good reliable service from Denver.”

Palmer’s remarks came just moments after Airport Operations Manager Paul Griffin said Great Lakes Airlines had cancelled 29 flights during November, an average of nearly one per day. While everyone at the meeting was in agreement that the problem was not solely one of Great Lakes’ making, but a national problem after a change in federal regulations, the frustration level over cancellations is growing and what, if anything, to be done about it.

Cindy Olson made a point while Bob Steen and Palmer looked on. (EO)

Cindy Olson made a point while Bob Steen and Palmer looked on. (EO)

“It’s critically important to our business to get people in and out of here. If we cannot do that, we will have to find another way. That would have great implications with the airport and the numbers you have here,” Palmer said. He said that students arriving here for wilderness education trips hit town on one day and are in the mountains the next. “In the wilderness, two days late doesn’t work well for us.”

While Riverton Regional is on track to top 13,000 passenger enplanements this year, the loss of NOLS students and staff,  oil and gas industry and business travel, the 10,000 minimum passenger enplanement number for FAA funding could be in jeopardy.

In answer to questions, Palmer said options including flying students into and out of Casper and running a bus between there and Lander. Or possibly even utilizing airports in Rock Springs or Jackson. All of those options would mean a loss of numbers for Riverton.

“You are already losing customers now as most of our development, marketing and operations staff are now traveling out of Casper or Rock Springs. We can do that, but to ask that of our students is inconvenient,” he said.

Airport Board member Dean Peranteaux said NOLS isn’t the only local business who has abandoned Riverton Regional for other airports. “Two days ago a fairly large gas and oil company told me they are rerouting their staff for meetings locally to start on Tuesdays now, rather than Mondays. And they are flying them out of Casper, Jackson or Rock Springs. We’re in a downward spiral.”

As they did in November’s meeting, board members said they will urge Great Lakes to be more forthcoming when cancellations are determined days in advance so customers who have already booked flights can make alternate arrangements, something the airline has not been doing.

“This is impacting Fremont County’s economic growth,” board member Bob Steen said. “This airline is harming us. We need to convey to Mr. Howell (Chuck Howell, CEO of Great Lakes) the importance and impact, the larger picture. This airport is vital to everyone in Fremont County.”

Board member Bruce Kamminga said the city is in a Catch-22 position. “It’s harming us with what we have, and it will harm us more if it’s not here,” he said.

Griffin said an airport consultant under contract with the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division, Nick Wangler, will make a web-based presentation to the Riverton City Council on Tuesday. Griffin said Wangler will speak about the upheaval in the commuter airline industry and how that is impacting all airports in Wyoming, not just Riverton’s. That meeting is Tuesday night, 7 p.m. at Riverton City Hall.

In Part Three of this series: Will the county commissioners suspend their funding for the airport? 

To read part one of this series, click here.