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Great Lakes rebounds, with more flights, larger airplane now offered

Oct 6, 2016 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Boardings 1/10th what they were in 2013

The number of Riverton Regional Airport passengers Great Lakes Airlines currently serves is as low as ever, but the Cheyenne-based company is taking steps to reverse that trend.

Great Lakes had offered just one round-trip flight each day for much of the summer, but now is offering three round-trip flights to Denver each day, with one of those flights being served by the 30-seat Embraer Brasilia-120 turboprop.

Brasilia returns

It's the first time that the Brasilia has been used regularly since mid-2013, shortly before Great Lakes's business was crippled by a regulation that required both pilots and co-pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience before being allowed to transport more than nine passengers at a time.

Since then, almost all flights have operated by the 19-passenger Beechcraft 1900, with the airline limiting its capacity to nine.

When Great Lakes announced it would need to end service to Worland on Oct. 1, local officials had speculated that Great Lakes's time in Riverton was also coming to an end. Many flights were cancelled on short notice, and on-time performance plummeted.

The business in Worland had been supported by federal Essential Air Service subsidies which recently have ended.

More pilots

If anything, leaving Worland has allowed Great Lakes to reinforce its service in Riverton, president Doug Voss said.

He said the airline is now able to commit more crews to Riverton, especially since finalizing a deal to hire retired United and Southwest pilots to helm Great Lakes flights on a part-time basis.

Beginning Nov. 1, Great Lakes will use Brasilias to serve two of its three trips, meaning nearly 80 seats will be available to fly to and from Denver each day.

125 in August

Great Lakes flew just 125 passengers out of Riverton in August, but Voss said he believes the decline in business has resulted from the company's previous inability to reliably offer an adequate amount of flights. Just four years ago, monthly boardings were about 10 times that figure.

Delays and cancellations have also been a problem for the company in recent years, but its reliability has greatly improved since being challenged by competitor Denver Air Connection since July.

Denver Air flies a 30-seat Dornier jet aircraft and has experienced zero cancellations since starting service July 1.

Departure times have averaged a couple of minutes early so far.

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