State, local partnership leads to SkyWest service

SHERIDAN — A United Express flight that arrived at Sheridan County Airport Sunday afternoon marked the beginning of SkyWest Airlines’ tenure as the airport’s commercial air service provider, inaugurating a partnership local and state officials believe will accelerate the development of local air service.

The partnership between the Sheridan County Airport and SkyWest is part of a larger plan developed by the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Commission to improve the quality of air service in critical communities around the state.

WYDOT scrapped its previous air service development strategy of subsidizing commercial air service in Wyoming communities in favor of bundling four critical air service communities — Sheridan, Gillette, Riverton and Rock Springs — into one contract, hoping their combined purchasing power could attract a larger airline.

The strategy worked, and WYDOT and the four communities finalized an agreement with SkyWest over the summer.

SkyWest officially took over from Key Lime Air — which has operated out of the Sheridan County Airport as the Denver Air Connection since 2015 — Sunday, a transition local officials have described as bittersweet.

DAC grew steadily while in Sheridan, increasing total ridership on the service from 2,237 in 2015 to 19,514 in 2018.

Last month, former Critical Air Service Team President Shawn Parker said the partnership with SkyWest would not have been possible without DAC’s growth in Sheridan.

“SkyWest never would have come if Denver Air Connection didn’t prove this market is sustainable,” Parker said.

Local officials hope SkyWest’s resources and industry partnerships will allow the community to build on the foundation DAC left in place.

SkyWest’s service will offer two round-trip flights to Denver every day except Saturday, with a scheduled stop in Riverton. Officials expect SkyWest’s partnership with United will benefit passengers by making the scheduling and transfer to connecting flights out of Denver more seamless.

Organizations associated with the new air service also saw changes this week.

Airport Manager John Stopka said the beginning of the new service was a significant transition for the airport as well, as SkyWest has hired all new staff members, the majority of whom are local residents.

And CAST — which Sheridan County designated as the local organization dedicated to air service retention and development last week — elected new officers ahead of SkyWest’s first local flight.

Former Sheridan County Commissioner and member of the statewide air service improvement council that drafted the terms of the deal with SkyWest Steve Maier will take over as CAST president; Mark Smith was elected vice president; Sheridan City Councilor Rich Bridger was elected treasurer; and Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce CEO Dixie Johnson was elected secretary.

Sheridan County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller, who is also the CAST administrator, said the new officers will oversee CAST as it moves into a slightly new role.

“CAST has been assisting the community and local governments since 2013 to bring in reliable air service and now we are at a point where we want to say it is going to help us continue to have sustainable, reliable air service,” Obermueller said.