At last, boardings increase at airport

Oct 12, 2016 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

September figure doubles last year's

After thee years of dwindling numbers, passenger boardings began to rebound over the summer at Riverton Regional Airport.

In September, 507 passengers departed from the airport, more than double the 223 passengers that flew out in September 2015.

The airport flew 355 passengers in August and 295 in July.

Two airlines

Denver Air Connection has increased its passenger boardings each month since it began serving Riverton Regional Airport in July with a 30-seat jet aircraft.

And longtime provider Great Lakes Airlines has improved its performance as well, with far fewer cancellations, an added daily flight, and the return of the larger of its two airplane types.

The numbers are still well short of the 10,000 annual passengers need at Riverton Regional in order to secure $1 million in federal funding.

"We're pleased, but we're not satisfied," said Kyle Butterfield, public works director for the city of Riverton.

Butterfield said he hopes and expects the airport will get back to the benchmark of 2013, when 1,500 regularly flew each month.

In reaching for that goal, Butterfield said securing screening by the Transportation Security Administration for Denver Air this month was a big first step. Now, the company is working toward developing partnerships with larger airlines that will allow Denver Air passengers to book entire routes on major websites and do not require checked bags to be re-screened in Denver.

Because Great Lakes does have these agreements, Butterfield said the airline still provides a distinct value to the local market.

Denver Air has yet to cancel a flight and typically runs ahead of schedule; Butterfield said that's a boon to passengers who've been dismayed by the Great Lakes's unreliability in recent years.

"I think we've addressed that," he said. "People can go to Riverton Regional Airport again and feel confident that they'll get to their destination as planned."

Revenue guarantee

Despite the growth in Denver Air's service, Fremont County Commissioner Travis Becker expressed concern that the airline is still far from being financially sustainable.

In order to secure the service this year, local communities promised to pay up to $2 million in the 2017 fiscal year to ensure Denver Air breaks even. Tentative agreements expect such a guarantee to be continued until Denver Air is profitable.

The state ended up paying most of that bill this year, meaning Lander, Riverton and Fremont County were each only responsible for paying $200,000.

So far, Denver Air is on pace to spend almost all of the $2 million allocated.

However, initial sales data for the next few months project passenger numbers to keep growing.

Denver Air might have served 62 percent of the passengers that have flown out of Riverton in the three months following July 1, but the boardings for Great Lakes Airlines also are growing.

For most of the summer, Great Lakes served barely 100 passengers each month, but that number grew to 198 in September. Great Lakes's numbers are expected to keep growing this month after it began offering three round-trip flights Oct. 1. Great Lakes also is returning its larger, 30-passenger Brasilia-120 aircraft to service at Riverton Regional.

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