SHERIDAN — The future of the Sheridan County Airport is in the hands of the community. Though the airport is set for fiscal year 2017, as it looks ahead to 2018, it all comes down to the community proving there’s a need for the air service in Sheridan and meeting an enplanement requirement.
The Sheridan County Airport and the Critical Air Service Team, or CAST, are working together to ensure the airport reaches the minimum 10,000 enplanements set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration. Reaching this requirement by the end of 2016 secures the airport $1 million in funding from the FAA.
The funding goes toward maintenance and reconstruction projects at the airport. One enplanement is defined as one paying passenger boarding at the Sheridan airport. Passengers arriving in Sheridan from Denver don’t count toward this number. The airport is currently at just less than 7,300 enplanements, and if the airport can’t meet the minimum, it receives only $150,000 from the FAA.
“And what’s it mean to me if I don’t make that, or don’t get the 10,000 (enplanements)?” Sheridan County Airport Manager John Stopka said. “Then I have to reprioritize our Capital Improvement Program going forward.”
The Capital Improvement Plan is an FAA document used to identify and prioritize airport development and is updated yearly. Though not getting the $1 million doesn’t mean the end of projects at the airport, it does mean putting a hold on larger ones.
The airport is receiving funding for fiscal year 2017, which is Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, from the Airport Authorization Bill that was passed last July by Congress. The bill was a one-time deal that supplied funding for airports that didn’t meet the enplanement requirement or lost air service all together. This money is going toward snow removal equipment, so funding from the FAA would go toward fiscal year 2018 and its project to replace runway and taxiway lights, which would cost up to $700,000. Without the full FAA funding, the airport would have to rely more on local dollars.
Increasing enplanements would also help solve other snags the airport is working out. Stopka said that increasing and maintaining enplanement numbers also comes into play when establishing baggage agreements with other airlines.
“We’ve got to prove ourselves, not just to these folks, our local folks, but to the other airlines that we want to go into business with that one, we’re going to be carrying enough people to make it worth their while and that they’re going to be on time,” Stopka said.
CAST Administrator Renee’ Obermueller said the nonprofit group is part of the team trying to reach the 10,000 enplanement goal. The group is able to fundraise for the purpose of airline sustainability, and that money is used to secure the contract with Denver Air Service. While the enplanement requirement and FAA funding does not affect CAST or go toward the airline, the number is essential in showing all entities the need to keep air service in Sheridan.
“I think the point that I believe that the community needs to understand is that in order for us to maintain air service, we have to use the service,” Obermueller said. She later added, “It’s really a community effort, it’s not a county effort, it’s not you know, any one particular group – it’s a community, you know, because I think we all understand how important air service is.”