Passengers unloading at Riverton Regional Airport’s terminal earlier this fall. (Ernie Over photo) 

(Riverton, Wyo.) – Riverton Regional Airport enplaned a total of 13,762 passengers during 2013, far exceeding the 10,000 passenger minimum to qualify for Federal Aviation Administration funding of commercial airport infrastructure. Airport Manager Paul Griffin said Friday this past year’s total surpassed 2012′s total boardings by 389 passengers. “We would’ve had a an even greater enplanement number, but we lost quite a few passengers to Casper, which recorded a record number of boardings this past year,” Griffin said. “We probably lost 2,000 or more boardings to them.”

It was reported earlier this winter by WYDOT Aeronautics consultant Nick Wangler that some 50 percent of all airline passengers from Fremont County fly from somewhere else, mostly Denver, Salt Lake City and Casper.

A Great Lakes Brasilia after landing in Riverton. (EO)

A Great Lakes Brasilia after landing in Riverton. (EO)

The most recent leakage is blamed, in part, on a number of flight cancellations that began in this fall when a new FAA rule requiring co-pilots of commuter airlines to have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours went into effect. Previously, co-pilots could fly with a minimum of 250 hours, and thus gain experience toward the 1500 hour goal by sitting in right seat. The resulting loss of pilots created mounting flight cancellations and delays. Earlier mechanical problems that created issues with the reliability of Great Lakes flights also contributed to the leakage.

In December, of 97 scheduled departures by Great Lakes, 26 were cancelled. Fully one-third of all flights scheduled in November had also been cancelled.  The trend is continuing in January. Concern over missing airline connections for those flying beyond Denver became more and more frequent this fall, and reached a crescendo in December, when a Fremont County Commissioner suggested unless that the flights become more reliable, the county may pull its funding from the airport.

While the pilot shortage is not solely a Great Lakes airlines problem, it’s one that effects all commuter airlines. The solution to reliable airline service locally has been elusive, and its something that Mayor Ron Warpness hopes to address through a Joint Powers Task Force to investigate the possibility of a joint powers board between the city of Riverton and the rest of Fremont County to fund and operate the airport.

Warpness presented his idea at this past Tuesday’s city council meeting, after the topic was discussed at last week’s Fremont County Association of Governments meeting. At this point, the proposal is just an idea, and nothing has been chiseled in stone.

Airport Board Chairman Jim Matson was surprised by the mayor’s move, and said he was disappointed that the mayor didn’t come to the airport board first.

City Council Member Mary Ellen Christensen, the airport board liaison, stressed that there was nothing formal yet, it was an idea that is now being discussed.