Regional aviation leaders met Wednesday in Jackson to discuss the state of air service in Wyoming.
The Air Transportation Liaison Committee heard presentations from representatives of United Airlines, Delta Airport Consultants, SkyWest and the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Commission.
While data were, at times, encouraging, experts said the industry continues to struggle with pilot shortages, high fuel costs and funding cuts.
A presentation organized by Ankit Gupta, Dan Malinowski and Tom Kremer of United Airlines showed the airline’s Wyoming passenger capacity is at an all-time high — up 38 percent since 2008. Wyoming passenger traffic has seen a 24 percent increase in international demand in the past decade, although domestic and Canadian passengers per day each way were down 2 percent in the same time frame.
In 2019, United is planning minor changes in Wyoming, including seasonal service shifts and aircraft size fluctuation.
Information provided by William Swelbar, chief industry strategist with Delta Airport Consultants, found that while departures and seats are both steadily growing, so is aircraft size.
This is concerning for non-hub markets, he said, as network carriers are critical for non-hub airports.
Small community departures have declined by more than 37 percent since 2004, but are now increasing for the first time in 15 years.
“Although we are seeing evidence of improvement for smaller airports in the country and regionally, we need to stay vigilant with funding and support,” said Jim Washburn, an aviation instructor from Cody. “Regional airlines provide service to two-thirds of airports nationwide. Not only do Wyomingites need to use the services provided to them here, but we need to ensure costs stay low, and access and reliability stay high. It’s hard to say exactly what the spike in departures can be attributed to, but I would stay cautiously optimistic until it becomes a trend.”
Average airfare in the state was $299 in 2017 for all Wyoming airports.
Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Bill Panos discussed regional challenges and the industry outlook during the meeting, including the Air Service Enhancement Program 2018 annual report and financial summary.
In fiscal year 2018, ASEP granted $3.5 million in state matches to five Wyoming commercial airport communities and expended $2.65 million of the granted amount.
Compared to FY 2017, the state granted about $300,000 more in FY 2018 for the same five communities, but received $350,000 back. The commission will grant $2.75 million to six communities, including Cheyenne Regional Airport, going forward.
ASEP, established by the Legislature in 2004, is a grant program operated by the Aeronautics Commission. Funding has gradually declined as grant requests have increased and ASEP is expected to run out of funding by July 1, 2019.
In 2018, the Legislature formed the Commercial Air Service Improvement Council to help establish criteria for a new plan and request for proposals for a new airline contract to provide similar service.
The carrier would provide up to three daily flights to and from Denver International Airport from airports that join the agreement, which would cost the state $15 million over 10 years.
“The industry is at an impasse,” Washburn said.