Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sheridan County Airport (KSHR) could land air service by November – for $2.8M

SHERIDAN – Great Lakes Aviation left Sheridan County Airport high and dry for commercial air service when it lifted off from the airport for the final time in late March. Months later, a committee fishing for a new commercial carrier at the airport may have finally found a break – with some large dollar-sign-shaped caveats attached.

The Critical Air Service Team, or CAST, is made up mostly of economic developers in the Sheridan area intent on a return to reliable air service. Prior to pulling out, Great Lakes said it had been losing money on every flight to Sheridan because of the expense of operating flights as far north as Sheridan to and from Denver with few seats. The company had modified its jets by yanking out many seats to make its relatively inexperienced pilots compliant with updated federal regulations the company said spurred a pilot shortage.

That accompanying seat shortage for Great Lakes makes it implausible for the company to make profitable flights of any considerable distance even with “full” aircraft that have as few as nine passengers.

“There’s no amount of money that can make those profitable for Great Lakes,” Sheridan County Airport Manager John Stopka said in March, adding that the airline wouldn’t ask for the money anyway. His words hint at revenue guarantee, a standard industry practice wherein a community offers to cover any gap between ticket revenue and a revenue target. In this case, it will likely take $2.8 million in revenue guarantee to get a carrier to return to Sheridan, according to Sheridan Media.

After talks fell apart with United and SkyWest last month on a lack of equipment of personnel, CAST kept searching for a commercial carrier. In an open letter almost a month later, Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce CEO Dixie Johnson said the casting about may be working.

“Recent discussions between CAST and Denver Air Connections (a subsidiary of Key Lime Air) have given us a renewed sense of hope, and just this week, we submitted an application to the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Aeronautics Division, for an Air Service Enhancement Grant,” Johnson said.

That grant would be worth up to $1.6 million while Sheridan and Johnson County guarantee $700,000 more. The cities of Sheridan and Buffalo have reportedly committed to chipping in as well, though no figures were available as of press time.

“Though we remain optimistic, there are still many details that need discussed and figured out before we can say for certain that we will have air service to and from Denver beginning in November,” Johnson said in her letter. Without the $2.8 million in funding from varied sources, talks will cease, and some of the money will necessarily come from the private sector, though how much is uncertain.

After that, the airport will need to re-federalize – a process that would return Transportation Security Administration employees to the terminal for safety checks. That ball is already in motion with Stopka planning to meet with TSA Thursday.

If everything works out to land Denver Air Connections in Sheridan, one detail remains for Sheridan to keep the service intact.

“Perhaps the most critical detail we need to figure out is how to fill the seats!” Johnson wrote. “It’s fantastic if we get reliable, consistent air service again, and everyone will love the idea that folks can fly in and out of Sheridan, but in order to lessen the revenue guarantee burden and ensure the sustainability of air service in our community, it really will be up to all of us to fill those seats.”

Source:  http://wyomingbusinessreport.com

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