Sunday, August 14, 2016

Daines’ reps hear of Sidney-Richland Municipal Airport (KSDY) challenges

Two members of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ office were in Sidney this week to visit about any concerns related to the airport and air travel. Wallace Hsueh, deputy chief of staff, and Joseph Schmoll, legislative assistant, talked with airport authority members, county commissioners and city officials during the meeting.

Hsueh was impressed with the turnout. “There’s always a lot of passion here. If there are needs or issues with FAA or anything, we need to learn about it.”

He added that he is very focused on rural areas. “It’s important to find out a little more about the community and the airport. EAS (Essential Air Service) is obviously a huge priority. This is our time to listen and learn.”

Walt McNutt, a member of the area’s airport authority, explained that the Sidney-Richland Airport received $1.2 million for having more than 10,000 enplanements last year and earned primary airport status. Because of a slow down in the oil industry, the airport might not hit the magical 10,000 number this time around. “We’re probably going to fall a little short this year,” McNutt said.

When an airport doesn’t reach 10,000 enplanements, the funding decreases to $150,000.

Schmoll, however, provided the news that the one-year FAA agreement has a provision that if an airport has more than 10,000 enplanements one year, the airport will still receive the primary airport status and $1.2 million the next year even if it doesn’t reach 10,000 enplanements. “It’s only for one year,” Schmoll noted.

McNutt said, “That’s good to know about that. We can certainly put $1.2 million to good use.”

Richland County Commissioner Shane Gorder suggested that there should be some middle ground for airports between receiving $1.2 million and $150,000. “Why not figure something in the middle?” For example, an airport with 9,000 enplanements could receive $500,000. 

“I’ve always felt they should have a scale,” McNutt added. “Now it’s 10,000 or nothing. You shouldn’t just drop off the scale.”

McNutt also discussed the struggles of pilot shortages. He said one of the challenges is that pilots are required to have 1,500 training hours.

“They (pilots) aren’t coming to the airlines,” McNutt said. “They (pilots) are taking their flying skills some place else.”

Because of the pilot shortages, Cape Air has been forced to cancel some flights. McNutt said the airline has worked hard to have enough pilots for flights in eastern Montana.

“We need this changed somehow,” McNutt, a member of the EAS task force, said. “For us, it’s a pretty big deal. We and Cape Air are working hard.”

McNutt told the representatives that the Richland-Sidney Airport as about as good as it can be. Officials have just completed a 20-year master plan. “We have a very dedicated board and community.” Sidney receives a much lower subsidy than the other EAS airports in Montana.

Hsueh told officials to keep in touch with Daines’ office about any problems or concerns. 

“We’re always looking at making Washington work better and more in a Montana style,” Hsueh said.


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