One of the final pieces to the puzzle of statewide air service was put in place Tuesday, when Campbell County commissioners signed an agreement with WYDOT.
In June, the Wyoming Department of Transportation approved a contract with SkyWest Airlines to provide air service to Gillette, Sheridan, Riverton and Rock Springs, but it required agreements between WYDOT and those four communities.
The agreement guarantees Gillette will have three daily roundtrip flights to Denver. The third flight will be available starting Oct. 6, a Sunday.
Riverton and Rock Springs signed the agreement but Sheridan has tabled it until more details are worked out.
Gillette will keep its early morning and late night flights. Now it has an early evening flight as well. The third flight would leave Gillette at 5:56 p.m. and land in Denver at 7:21 p.m. And while the time can be changed, the flight will not go away.
Here’s how the flights will line up:
There will be two daily roundtrip flights in January and February.
March through May and September through December, there will be three flights four days a week — Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday — and two flights the other three days of the week.
June through August, there will be three daily flights six days a week, with Saturday being the only day with two flights.
Gillette-Campbell County Airport Director Jay Lundell said he believes the early evening flight will have good inbound traffic.
“A lot of people can’t get in that morning departure from Denver to here,” he said.
Right now, with two flights a day, if someone arrives in Denver after the late morning flight leaves for Gillette, they’ll have to wait several hours for the next flight.
The outbound flight, however, may struggle, he said, but that shouldn’t be a problem if the other two flights do well.
“If your two flights make profit, that profit will help subsidize your third flight,” he said, adding that the two existing flights are profitable right now.
Lundell said he believes the late afternoon flight could be popular with those traveling to the Southwest, and that it has good connectivity in the oil field markets with cities like Dallas and Houston.
Commissioner Mark Christensen wondered about one part of the agreement that says the communities have have two years to reduce their per-passenger costs by 10%.
“The only way to offset that is to increase ridership, because we don’t have any control over any of the other expenses,” he said.
The reason for that is that WYDOT wants to see each community try to improve its air service, instead of just taking money from the state and doing nothing.
“We want to make sure that communities are trying to be as subsidy-free as possible,” he said.
Christensen said small markets are going away, and “at a certain point you’re not going to be able to reduce costs. You’ll just continue to have to pay some level of subsidy,” he said.
As far as lowering ticket prices, Lundell said Gillette doesn’t have much of a say. But with the statewide air service program, “we have more clout, with four airports participating.”
While the fares to Denver are OK, it’s the “beyond fares,” or how much it costs to fly from Denver to another destination if you’re starting out in Gillette, that are expensive.
That’s a conversation the state and the communities need to have with United, he said.