SHERIDAN — Local officials are optimistic that SkyWest Airlines taking over as Sheridan’s commercial air service provider in January will provide a major boost to local air service but are already looking ahead to ensure whatever gains made in the next couple of years can be sustained over the long term.
Sheridan and Johnson Counties Critical Air Service Team President Shawn Parker told local legislators at the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Forum that he is expecting the switch to SkyWest — which will take over at Sheridan County Airport Jan. 12 — will increase enplanements significantly due to the larger airline’s partnership with United Airlines, its marketing capacities and the ability to sell Sheridan flights at competitive prices through online travel agents like Expedia and Travelocity.
But, Parker told legislators, local officials need to keep an eye on the agreement with the state that facilitated the switch to SkyWest.
“We’re going to have to start looking at the capacity purchase agreement funding again in the next couple of years,” Parker said. “Originally that funding was supposed to last for 10 years, but of course we’re not sure if that is going to be the case.”
Ideally, Parker said, the service will see enough growth over those two years that Sheridan County will be able to operate the service without state assistance. If that does not turn out to be the case, though, the partnership between Wyoming and the critical air service communities served through the capacity purchase agreement will be crucial. Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, asked Parker and CAST Administrator Renee Obermueller, who also attended the forum, what they would like to see the state improve about the capacity purchase agreement negotiations going forward, acknowledging the formation of the initial plan caused anxiety in the communities that expected to be involved.
“It was secretive, we didn’t know what was going to come out of it, we didn’t know what leverage we did or did not have, we didn’t know if something was going to be forced on us that we didn’t like,” Kinskey said. “This may not be the session to try to get those changes into CPA 2.0, but let’s at least know what we’d like to have happen the next time.”
Obermueller agreed with Kinskey’s characterization of the process and said CAST and its local partners would like to be more involved in any future negotiations regarding the capacity purchase agreement.
“I think what we need to do once the CPA reaches year three is have more of a seat at the table,” Obermueller said. “One of the things that was a little disheartening was we did feel like the state was negotiating for us.”
Kinskey said the best way to have more local officials involved in the negotiations will be to show the state the service is profitable.
“Let’s see if we can visibly demonstrate to ourselves and to the public that we’re really getting those tax dollars back,” Kinskey said. “I think it’s important that (the state) sees that.”
Right now, those numbers are forecasts. But in a little more than a month, officials, and the community, will begin to see whether those forecasts are accurate.