Local members of the Critical Air Service Team have fought for every dollar received from state and local government coffers to provide commercial air service out of Sheridan. Now, officials and community members interested in the future of air service in Sheridan and Johnson counties are faced with a choice — stick with Denver Air Connection or sign on to the state’s provider of choice, SkyWest.
Despite exemplary service from DAC — which features superb reliability in addition to its tasty snacks — the airline service remains out of budget for many leisure flyers.
Shawn Burke, Wyoming Department of Transportation air service development analyst in the Aeronautics Division, recently told CAST members and other officials that approximately 70 percent of travelers leaving Sheridan County currently drive to other airports — like Billings or Gillette — to get lower ticket prices.
SkyWest has said they could offer more competitive rates through codeshare partnerships with major airlines, United Airlines in particular, and more efficient planes.
By more efficient planes, they mean an upgrade from current Denver Air Connection 30-seaters to 50-seaters with roughly similar costs for fuel and operations.
Some local residents, though, have questioned whether air service is actually critical to the area. Stakeholders in CAST, businesses and Sheridan Travel and Tourism preach that the service will drive the economy and draw big businesses into the community. That may be true, but a commercial airline likely isn’t sustainable in a small community when relying on business passengers alone. As long as Billings and other area airports offer cheaper flights, they will be used more frequently by leisure travelers than Sheridan’s service.
CAST members, while seriously considering the switchover to the state’s unsecured plan, have developed loyalty to DAC. Some say DAC is and always will be the way to go; others have said they’ll go with the cheaper budget option.
While promising, only time will tell whether SkyWest’s offer will save passengers and local governments money. For now, we can hope that those involved in the process for Sheridan County will make the best decision they can with the community and the long-term future at the forefront of their minds.