Cost for local air service likely to rise under new SkyWest contract

The cost to maintain commercial air service in Fremont County is about to rise, local officials say.

The state’s contract with SkyWest Airlines, which provides commercial air service in several Wyoming communities, including Fremont County, is up for renewal, and the renegotiation process will probably include a substantial price increase due to inflation, higher oil costs, and other factors, Riverton public works director Kyle Butterfield told the Lander City Council last week.

For example, the price for a “block hour” of travel – including costs for overhead, airframe maintenance, debt service, personnel, and more for each flight – is rising this year from about $2,500 to about $3,400, Butterfield said.

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“It’s likely we’ll need more funds,” he said. “(So) we’re looking at solutions.”

Economic development

One idea is to ask Fremont County and its municipalities to direct some of their half percent economic development tax revenues to commercial air service.

Local governments receive 70 percent of the economic development tax revenue, with 10 percent going to ground transportation and 20 percent – about $640,000 annually – supporting local air service.

But air service has already cost Fremont County about $380,000 this fiscal year – and that’s after the state contributed $120,000 of its Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security Act funding to the effort.

“We’re not near where we need to be,” said Kevin Kershisnik, executive director of Riverton’s economic development arm IDEA Inc.

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He suggested local towns might be willing to divert 30-40 percent of their economic development tax money to local air service “as a buffer.”

“That might be the best long-term solution,” he said.

Butterfield noted that local governments could also contribute directly from their general funds, as they have in the past.

“We will keep you posted as the contract is finalized,” he said. “We want to come to a solution together.”

The PDF Butterfield presented to the council is available here.

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