SHERIDAN — November will mark the two-year anniversary of Denver Air Connection shuttling passengers between Sheridan and Denver, but the air service need a little boost to help get it over the 10,000-enplanement mark for 2017.
That magic number is the threshold required to receive federal funding for airport improvement projects each year.
Renee Obermueller said in the past the airport has had little trouble meeting that mark. But, now the airport must compete with Riverton to book those seats. Obermueller is the administrative director for Sheridan County and Critical Air Service Team administrator.
Airport manager John Stopka has said the airport counts on those enplanement numbers, which fund capital improvement projects through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program. Hitting 10,000 enplanements qualifies the airport for $1 million in capital improvement funding, as opposed to $150,000 it’ll receive without hitting that mark.
In August, the CAST team projected its enplanements through the end of the year and estimated that the airport would fall short of that 10,000 mark by between 300 and 800.
Obermueller said the team began exploring options to boost the numbers. One option included partnering with an air service out of Minnesota to stop in Sheridan en route to Las Vegas. CAST and the Minnesota company began working through plans for weekend trips to the Nevada city, but engineers with the airline expressed concern about the repeated weight of the plane on the Sheridan runway.
“So we decided to circle back to Denver Air Connection and do something with scenic flights,” Obermueller said, adding that the group had initially considered Santa Claus flights, but assumed people would want to see something from the air rather than fly at night.
DAC got on board with the idea of scenic flights and the goal became to add an additional 1,000 enplanements to the tally through the program.
By the time the flights had been announced and an online booking mechanism set up, it took less than 24 hours for nearly all of the planned flights to be booked full. The final tally of enplanements to be added comes in at 1,140. A waiting list is also in place for those who didn’t get signed up before the flights were booked.
“I think honestly it’s folks what haven’t had the opportunity to use the service, it hadn’t worked out for them,” Obermueller said of the quick booking. “This gives them a chance to get out and try it.”
Obermueller said she and the rest of the CAST team were surprised the flights booked so quickly, but that allows the team to now focus on making sure the flights are enjoyable and boarding goes smoothly for all participants. The county will cover the cost of the flights — the amount for which Obermueller said she would disclose once the bill is received and paid. She did say for the $1 million at stake, the cost of the flights will come in at less than 10 percent of that total.
“To me, that’s a great investment,” Obermueller said.
The federal funding for the airport is used for everything from snow removal and striping to runway maintenance and other projects.
In addition to the free scenic flights, a two-year anniversary celebration is planned for Nov. 3 from 2-5 p.m. Obermueller said that event will include refreshments and more, also noting that the free flights won’t interfere with regularly scheduled flights from Sheridan to Denver.