Air Service in Sheridan

Summary of the presentation on Air Service in Sheridan, from the Sheridan County Chamber luncheon on September 12, 2012, along with a call for community attention. Anyone interested in participating in the community task force addressing air service in Sheridan should contact the Chamber at 672-2485.

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By Paolo Cisneros. Reprinted with permission from The Sheridan Press, September 13, 2012

A Wyoming Department of Transportation official told members of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that Sheridan is in danger of losing commercial air service.

WYDOT Aeronautics Commissioner Pete Schoonmaker addressed the monthly chamber luncheon at the Sheridan Holiday Inn to praise the efforts of the newly formed air travel task force – a group of local business and government leaders aimed at formulating ideas to improve the local air travel industry – and to urge other chamber members to join the conversation.

He said that while many regional airports have struggled in recent years, Sheridan County is particularly vulnerable to losing service altogether.

Great Lakes Airlines is currently the only commercial carrier operating in and out of the Sheridan County Airport, but the company is free to leave whenever it sees fit.

Since Sheridan County has not received Essential Air Service designation from the U.S. Department of Transportation, no airline is legally obligated to provide service to the area. Schoonmaker said he worries that Great Lakes isn’t making a profit by operating in Sheridan, and he warned that without any financial incentive to stay, the company may leave for more lucrative markets.

Fuel prices and fewer airlines a serious challenge to local air travel industry

The central problem facing both the Sheridan County Airport as well as Great Lakes is a phenomenon known in the industry as leakage. It occurs when travelers bypass their local airport in favor of another. Sheridan County leaks most of its potential customers to Billings, but some also fly out of Casper, Cody, Gillette, and Denver.

Slowing that tide and drawing customers back to the Sheridan County Airport is the only way Great Lakes will make a profit, Schoonmaker said.

Task force members said they asked Schoonmaker to speak to the chamber because commercial air service is an essential facet of economic development.

In addition to serving on the Aeronautics Commission, Schoonmaker is the CEO of Summit Gas Resources . He told the audience that companies like his depend on the ability to fly in and out of town.

Still, serious challenges stand in the way of bolstering the local air travel industry, Schoonmaker told the group that increased fuel prices and a decrease in the number of active airlines nationwide have left many regional airports struggling to fill seats.

Those with Essential Air Service designation don’t have to worry, but Sheridan has no such luxury.

Some Wyoming airports facing similar concerns, such as Cody and Jackson, have recently offered monetary assurances to airlines in exchange for guaranteed levels of service. These deals provide reliability to residents and businesses, but can be costly to taxpayers.

Forward Sheridan Executive Director Jay Stender was absent from the presentation because he was giving a similar pitch to members of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce. Since its inception, task force members have stressed the importance of soliciting help from beyond the Sheridan County borders.

“There are a lot of people in Johnson County who see Sheridan County as their hub,” said Dixie Johnson, executive director of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce.

Some in the crowd stressed the importance of supporting Great Lakes, saying the airline has done a good job of improving on its on-time record and becoming an attractive option for travelers.

Peg Martin, owner of Brittain World Travel, said she has received very positive feedback about the airline this year. She told the audience that while improvements are worth discussing, it’s important for people in the community to support the air travel industry that already exists.

As for government assistance, Schoonmaker told the group that WYDOT is willing to work with Sheridan residents in any way it can to help revive the local air travel industry.

But he warned that improvements, however badly they’re needed, can only happen if people get involved.

“Communities are going to have to step up,” he said.

 

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