Great Lakes Airlines currently serves Riverton Regional Airport with daily flights to and from Denver. (Ernie Over photo)
(Riverton, Wyo.) – One week ago, Fremont County Commissioner Larry Allen told the Riverton Regional Airport Board that if they didn’t get more aggressive with Great Lakes Airlines to prevent flight cancellations, the county’s funding for the airport could be in danger. On Tuesday this week, Allen was singing a slightly different song. After sitting through an hour-long presentation from a Wyoming Airline industry consultant, Allen was the first to step to the podium and suggest a task force be created to look at ways to guarantee service here.
The presentation from Nick Wangler, who helped create the Wyoming Air Service Enhancement (ASE) program a dozen years ago, was sobering as to the state of the airline industry nationally and what that holds for Wyoming. Despite the success of the ASE program, Wyoming’s rural landscape and small population is not attractive to carriers who now dominate the industry. That is unless the individual airport guarantees the airline won’t lose money in a market.
That was the idea behind the Air Service Enhancement program, and it’s worked well as Wyoming is one of only seven states to see an increase in its number of passenger segments nationally. But the program’s funding has been reduced over the years and individual communities have been forced to come up with additional funding guarantees themselves to match the state program.
“You have to pay to play,” said Wyoming Aeronautics Commissioner Jerry Dilts, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “The ASE program is not going to go away because of Wyoming’s small population, you have to offer enhancements to airlines to stay here. We’ll also need more money to keep funding what we have,” he said.
Wangler said if Riverton wanted a certain level of service, it would have to decide what that was and then go after it.
“For example, Delta is the biggest carrier in Salt Lake City. If you want a flight there, you’ll have to go with an airline with connections to Delta and with the right equipment to get into Riverton,” he said. That airline is Skywest, which operates as both a Delta Connection to Salt Lake City and as a United Express commuter to Denver, albeit from different airports. “You’ll have to have conversations with Skywest to have them look at it. You’ll need to be specific, how many flights a day, one or two, if one would be overnight stay, etc.”
He said airlines are no longer willing to take a risk on a market and not be successful.
No immediate action was taken on Allen’s offer for a task force, but some members of the Riverton Airport Board who were in attendance at the meeting were seen nodding their heads in agreement that such a group should be investigated.