SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Aeronautics Commission met Monday via teleconference to discuss a proposed air service model.
Sheridan County Airport manager John Stopka dialed in to the meeting.
Stopka said the model is one option to leverage state funding for air service under one contract or one carrier. The model is being developed by a task force under the Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division.
He said many times when one contract is achieved it makes air service more feasible and economical and could possibly lead to lower costs for the state and communities.
“It’s an idea, that’s really where it’s at right now,” Stopka said. “They don’t have any idea on how to fund it or what a governance board would look like…so they’ve got a lot of work to do with it right now, but they are pushing forward with this one idea.”
Stopka said currently Wyoming’s rates are about 46 percent higher on airfare than the national average and Denver, Colorado, is at least 20 percent below it. But Denver isn’t the only one with lower airfare; Stopka said all of Wyoming’s surrounding states have lower airfare.
The model could look different years or even months down the road, Stopka said. Implementing the model will require working through some legislation, so it’s possible the model will be more clear as it gets closer to the legislative season next year.
The task force will meet with the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee Friday to present the model.
Stopka said while it was known that a task force, which was put together earlier this year, was looking into different ways to maintain and provide air service in the state, the model came as a surprise to many airport managers.
He said he first heard about it only late last week and it’s too early to have an opinion on it.
Stopka said he’s not sure how this new model would affect Sheridan. He said Sheridan will remain under its Minimal Revenue Guarantee with Denver Air Connection for at least the next year or two. He said there’s no timeframe on the new model and it could be a few years away from realization.
Even with the new model, though, Stopka said the airport would still be counting on enplanement numbers, which funds capital improvement projects through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program.
Hitting 10,000 enplanements qualifies the airport for $1 million in capital improvement funding, as opposed to $150,000 it’ll receive without hitting that mark.
Stopka said if the state can get a program with better air service in Wyoming, airports across the state should see an increase in enplanements.
This year, he said, Sheridan is just above last year’s enplanement numbers.
July, which is usually a peak month for the airport, saw numbers lower than last year’s.
Critical Air Service Team administrator Renee’ Obermueller said it could have been because of the slight raise in fares, which was about $10 for most tickets.
While enplanements decreased slightly, Obermueller said revenue has increased — a balance she said they’re trying to master. She also said the airport has a strong fall when it comes to bookings.
“Everything is booking over what we did last year and above what our estimates were, so I’m not concerned at this point,” Obermueller said.
Stopka said another possible reason for the decreased enplanements in July is the addition of the Riverton air service, which started last year after the Sheridan airport had been booked through July.
Hitting that enplanement number, Stopka said, remains one of his primary focuses, along with preserving air service in the area, which he said will require state and local funding as well as help from the community utilizing the service.
“My focus is keep moving forward and pushing forward and maintain the air service that we have,” Stopka said. “And if we can improve it going forward, let’s improve it. And if we can reduce the cost we want to reduce the cost.”