SHERIDAN — Representatives from SkyWest Airlines laid out their pitch to take over as Sheridan County Airport’s commercial air service provider to a group of city, county and state officials Tuesday.
After 2018 legislation that appropriated funding for developing a long-term strategy to bring reliable air service to Wyoming, a state committee decided that contracting four of the state’s critical air service communities with the same provider would give those communities the best chance of attracting a major provider; in April, that committee selected SkyWest as the best provider to serve those communities.
Sheridan and Johnson counties Critical Air Service Team Administrator Renee Obermueller said the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division is currently negotiating a contract with SkyWest.
Any contract between the state and SkyWest would be contingent on the four communities — Gillette, Riverton, Rock Springs and Sheridan — signing memorandums of understanding that commit them to partnering with SkyWest.
For Sheridan, that would mean replacing its current air service provider, Key Lime Air, which operates out of the Sheridan County Airport as the Denver Air Connection. Local officials say DAC has grown steadily and been a reliable partner since it began flying out of Sheridan County Airport in 2015.
SkyWest Managing Director of Marketing Development Greg Atkin highlighted the airline’s reach and industry partnerships, claiming that SkyWest could leverage those resources to both hasten the growth of the local air service and enhance its growth potential.
Atkin said SkyWest would focus on stimulating “leisure travel” in and out of the Sheridan County Airport by working to reduce ticket costs.
According to WYDOT, leisure travelers represent a relatively untapped market for the local air service. Shawn Burke, an air service development analyst in the Aeronautics Division, said 70 percent of travelers leaving Sheridan currently drive to other airports — like Billings or Gillette — to get lower ticket prices.
Atkins said SkyWest could offer more competitive rates through partnerships with major airlines — United Airlines in particular — and more efficient planes.
While DAC launched an interline agreement with United Airlines this year, which allows passengers to book United and DAC flights on the same itinerary — SkyWest has a more comprehensive “codeshare” agreement with United — which would mean that flights to and from the Sheridan County airport would be coded as United flights. That agreement would afford passengers more continuity between connecting flights, Atkin said, and offer more competitive pricing by giving passengers more fares to choose from.
SkyWest’s service would also use 50-seat jets, compared to the 30-seat jets DAC uses currently. After the presentation, Obermueller said SkyWest’s 50-seat jets cost roughly the same to operate and fuel as the DAC jets and could increase the profit potential of local flights.
Crucially, though, WYDOT’s Aeronautics Division is still negotiating the contract with SkyWest, which means none of the details of the airline’s offer have been finalized and many are still unknown.
Without the details of the official offer, local officials cannot weigh the costs and benefits of each airline’s proposal.
Aeronautics Division Director Brian Olsen said he expects an agreement by June 30.
“At that point in time, we can share the proposal publicly and we can also share the proposal that DAC has offered, so (the community) can make an informed decision,” Obermueller said.
She added that once CAST has the details of both offers, it will work with local officials to reach a quick decision, which she hoped could come by mid-July.
The DAC is contracted to operate out of Sheridan County Airport through Jan. 11. The sooner local officials know whether the service will be operating beyond that date, the sooner they can begin planning for local air services’ long-term future.