SHERIDAN — Earlier this month, Shawn Parker announced he would be stepping away as president of the Sheridan and Johnson County Critical Air Service Team, a move that coincides with a major transition for local air service and a shift in the group’s role supporting the local service.
Parker stressed that the move was amicable and said he saw those transitions as a perfect opportunity to hand over the reins to a new president who could help chart a new direction for the group.
“I really believe that any volunteer position needs new blood, needs new creative energy regularly,” Parker said. “Really it’s a great opportunity for me to step away, work on some other things I’m really interested in, and let someone else take over the leadership role.”
When Sheridan County agreed to let SkyWest Airlines take over as the commercial air service carrier at Sheridan County Airport this summer, it represented a step forward for local air service but also the end of an important chapter in CAST’s history.
CAST formed in 2013 as a group of interested stakeholders — from government officials to local business owners and citizens — dedicated to bringing a reliable air service carrier to Sheridan.
At that time, Great Lakes Airlines was operating as the commercial carrier out of Sheridan County Airport and CAST administrator Renee Obermueller said the service could not meet the community’s demands.
“We had started to see some great failures in their service and their reliability,” Obermueller said.
The organization became a community voice that advised local officials in their search for a new carrier and provided the county with the necessary leverage to attract that new carrier, Obermueller said.
CAST accomplished its goal in 2015 when it contracted with Key Lime Air, which operated out of the Sheridan County Airport as the Denver Air Connection.
Parker came on board shortly after the service had been recruited and worked closely with CAST members and Key Lime officials to make preparations for DAC’s first flight out of Sheridan County Airport.
That close working relationship between CAST members and Key Lime officials continued throughout the DAC’s time at Sheridan County Airport, Parker said.
“We worked on everything together with them,” Parker said.
Both Obermueller and Parker said they were extremely proud of how local air service developed through the partnership with Key Lime and credited Key Lime’s team for working hard to ensure the continued growth of DAC.
And while the community chose to move away from Key Lime when presented with the opportunity to sign with a larger carrier, Parker said that opportunity never would have presented itself if not for the foundation DAC built.
“SkyWest never would have come if Denver Air Connection didn’t prove this market is sustainable,” Parker said. “If we weren’t growing every year.”
With SkyWest taking over at the Sheridan County Airport, CAST will adopt a somewhat different role.
CAST directly contracted with Key Lime Air, which meant it held a contract with the company, giving the group direct input over how DAC ran, from aspects like flight scheduling to revenue management.
SkyWest’s commitment to operate out of Sheridan is part of a larger contract between the carrier and the state to provide service to four Wyoming communities. The Wyoming Department of Transportation holds the contract with SkyWest under that agreement, which will result in CAST adopting more of a local advocacy role, Obermueller said.
“CAST will continue to advocate for reliable, affordable, consistent air service and then I think community outreach — that marketing piece — is going to be a big part of what CAST does (going forward),” Obermueller said.
She also noted that CAST will be involved with the annual contract negotiations between SkyWest and the state, representing community interests.
Obermueller said CAST will miss Parker’s leadership, but added that she doesn’t expect he’ll disappear completely.
“Shawn was so supportive and helpful when we transferred to Key Lime Air and just been a trooper,” Obermueller said. “And I know he’s going to continue to support whatever we do.”
Parker, who works full-time as Sheridan’s Travel and Tourism director, said he will stay involved with local air service to some degree, particularly related to marketing efforts, but his work will be more behind-the-scenes in the future.
Obermueller said CAST has not elected a new president yet, said the group will likely do so at its January meeting.