For months now, officials around the community have been saying how important it is to have commercial air service in Sheridan. It’s essential to businesses; it’s a spark in our growing tourism economy; it is just plain convenient. Yet not enough of the community’s average citizens really understand why commercial air service in our small city is such a big deal; and it is a big deal. Perhaps public officials from all organizations involved — Critical Air Service Team, elected officials and industry representatives — need to focus more on the nitty-gritty of why it matters and less on the big picture ideas.
Four months after Great Lakes Airlines left the community, we’re starting to hear mutterings that community members — at least those without airplanes of their own — aren’t sure what the big deal is. In gathering places around town, they are saying that they didn’t use the local airport anyway. Flights were too expensive and unreliable; they didn’t like the smaller planes. Feeling little impact personally, there is questioning on why we should spend taxpayer dollars on revenue guarantees to bring in a new provider.
Any amount invested in airline revenue guarantees will pay off in spades. Here’s why:
- According to a Wyoming Department of Transportation study in 2013 on the economic impact of commercial airports and airline service in Wyoming, more than 374,000 visitors arrived in Wyoming on a commercial airline. Virtually half of those visitors came for business reasons. Another 34 percent had come for tourism.
- The same study showed that of those visitors who came through Sheridan County by airplane, they stayed for an average of 4.4 days and spent an average of $545.
- Do the economic impact calculations, and it’s $1 billion for the state. More valuably, it’s $23.4 million for Sheridan County. That’s real money that churns through a county of 30,000 several times over in local business and services.
- Lastly, we rely on it for business access: local energy companies, real estate, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Sheridan College, government. The list of users is a long one.
Tuesday, The Sheridan Press first reported how Key Lime Air is considering Sheridan for service with two flights daily. There is much to be worked out: securing gates at Denver International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration regulatory details, website travel access. A target date is Nov. 1. In the meantime, these officials — as they seek private sector support for revenue guarantees and public support for a new commercial air service provider — need to do a better job of making their sales pitch to the community. Let’s tell Joe Citizen why this is a good deal. Be specific. Show the numbers. We need this.