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Air boardings down by 500 a month so far in 2014

Mar 24, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The number of departures and arrivals at Riverton Regional Airport closely reflected the difficulties the airport's sole commercial airline is suffering on a broader scale due to a Federal Aviation Administration revised requirement for co-pilots.

What once was 250 hours of flight time required for co-pilots was bumped up to 1,500 hours before they can work for a commercial airline.

The result has been fewer available co-pilots and large numbers of cancelled flights from Riverton and everywhere in the Great Lakes system. The airline has dropped service completely at a dozen airports this year.

Fewer flights

In January, 95 flights were scheduled to depart from Riverton Regional, and 37 of those flights were canceled. In February, 94 flights were scheduled , with 44 canceled. Only seven flights left on time, six were one to five minutes late, and 37 flights were six or more minutes late.

As for arrivals, 95 flights were scheduled to land at the Riverton airport in January, but 39 of those were canceled. Eighty-nine arrivals were scheduled for February, and 23 were canceled.

The airport usually reports some of its lowest numbers in November and December -- when the weather causes cancellations -- and the most flight activity in May, January and March. The cancellations due to the pilot shortage have damaged boarding numbers significantly, aside from any weather concerns.

Through February 2013, about 1,700 passengers enplaned and deplaned at the airport. As of February of this year, only about 1,200 people boarded, with 1,300 deplaning.

The airport has to meet a 10,000 enplanement mark annually to receive $1 million in federal program funds for airport maintenance and operations. Without the 10,000 boardings, the federal funding falls to just $150,000.

"There's a concern that Riverton may not get (10,000) this year," said Nick Wangler, consultant for the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission, said in his visit to the Riverton Regional Airport Board's public forum Friday in Riverton.

In 2013, roughly 13,760 passengers boarded a flight in Riverton, meaning the federal funding is intact for this year. But if the trend continued to show a 500-passenger downturn monthly in 2014, the airport would not meet the 10,000 enplanement mark.

Great Lakes Airlines has been forced to eliminate its services at regional airports because of the pilot shortage. Most recently, Great Lakes cut service to all of North Dakota.

Airport division manager Paul Griffin said Riverton Regional Airport is scheduled for three flights a day through Great Lakes but is averaging only one or two per day in the first months of 2014. This year there have been days when no flights in or out of Riverton took place at all.

At the meeting Friday, the airport board discussed the possibility of adding or changing carriers at the airport and appointed a task force to look into that option and others.

Great Lakes, meanwhile, has announced management measures it says will improve service beginning in April (see related story).

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Riverton Regional Airport