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Proposals sought for new operator at Airport Cafe

Apr 2, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Great Lakes still battling shortage of pilots; bigger planes now in use

The City of Riverton will accept proposals through 5 p.m. Friday from companies or individuals interested in operating restaurant services at Riverton Regional Airport.

The restaurant space, which used to house the Airport Cafe, was vacated unexpectedly last month by leaseholder Deborah Fitzpatrick. She had spent about a year operating her business there, and her lease was scheduled to end by the end of March.

Business at the restaurant reportedly has been affected negatively by the frequent cancellations of the morning flight to Denver by Great Lakes Airlines, which is battling to remedy a pilot shortage that has undermined service at the airport for months.

An advertisement from the city states it would be most interested in working with an already established and reputable businessperson who has experience managing and operating restaurants similar to previous establishments at the airport.

Airport division manager Paul Griffin said he is open to developing a lease agreement that will work for all parties involved.

"We're willing to work with anyone who puts their name in the hat," Griffin said, though he added that anyone who applies should meet the city's desired requirements.

The timeline for the lease, as well as renewal and pricing information, will be determined as part of agreement negotiations, Griffin continued. The lease also will stipulate hours of operation, Griffin said, explaining that it is important for the restaurant to be open to serve travelers and members of the public.

He said the city also is open to ideas from the potential new leaseholder for changes or improvements in the restaurant space.

Once the deadline for proposals has passed, city and airport staff will recommend one or several leaseholders to the Riverton Regional Airport Board. Board members will make a final recommendation to the Riverton City Council.

Other changes

Griffin also commented on other changes that went into effect Tuesday at the airport.

Great Lakes Airlines - the only commercial airline that operates out of RRA - has introduced schedule and aircraft modifications that resulted in the elimination of a fourth flight that used to serve the airport during weekdays.

Now, Great Lakes will only be using the Embraer-120 Brasilia in Riverton.

The aircraft seats 30 passengers and used to be paired with the Beechcraft 1900 in Riverton.

The 19-seat Beechcraft aircraft now will be used at other airports; Great Lakes plans to remove 10 seats from the Beech 1900 in order to accommodate pilots who have not yet logged the 1,500 hours of flight time now required by the federal government to operate certain aircraft.

Griffin said he is closely watching the airport's activity during the transition this month to see if any gradual improvements come to Riverton as part of the airline's change in operations in communities throughout the region.

Great Lakes recently abandoned all service to North Dakota and has cut back sharply in Kansas.

Griffin said more vehicles have appeared at the airport's parking lot recently, indicating that the local flying community is supportive of changes at Riverton Regional.