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Airport numbers show substantial improvement

Jul 22, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

June cancellations just 8 percent

Air service at Riverton Regional Airport has turned a corner, according to the most recent data.

After months of Great Lakes Airlines reporting high cancellation rates, airport director Paul Griffin says the carrier's cancellations plummeted last month.

"They've really come up. People need to give them a chance, because they really have improved," Griffin said.

June saw only 12 canceled departures and 12 canceled arrivals, just 8 percent of the total in each category. As recently as May, the rate of scratched flights was more than three times higher, at 25 percent of all flights, or 35 departures and 36 arrivals. Cancellations in earlier months were even higher.

Great Lakes managed the good marks in June despite a ramp up of 50 percent more flights compared to the winter months, when cancellations were highest.

"They're doing everything they can to make sure we get our flights," Griffin said.

Methods included combining the Riverton-to-Denver route with a flight to Worland, he said. Last month a flight to Riverton and one to Sheridan both were canceled, Griffin said, so Great Lakes sent a bigger plane to pick up the passengers from both airports.

Poor service has been causing Fremont County travelers headaches for months following imposition of new FAA rules requiring co-pilots to have far more experience than the typical Great Lakes co-pilot possesses. Without an FAA-approved crew, a flight cannot take place on a commercial airliner with 10 seats or more. Great Lakes has removed seats on some of its 19-passenger Beech 1900s to avoid the requirement on some of its routes.

Previous months

In January, Riverton Regional saw 39 percent of departures and 41 percent of arrivals canceled. Only 14 percent of departures and 15 percent of arrivals were on time.

In February, the picture was much the same, with axed departures reaching 47 percent and canceled arrivals hitting 26 percent. On time flights were only 7 percent of departures and the same fraction of arrivals.

In March, it cancellations worsened to 53 percent of departures and 54 percent of arrivals. On-time flights made up only 14 percent of departures and 13 percent of arrivals.

Service started to improve in April. Only 26 percent of departures and 28 percent of arrivals were canceled. On-time flights outnumbered those canceled for the first time in months, reaching 45 percent of departures and 38 percent of arrivals.

May numbers held about steady, with 25 percent of departures and arrivals canceled. About 20 percent of departures and 15 percent of arrivals were on time for the month.

Then the big dip in cancellations arrived in June.

10,000-passenger threshold

Airport board members said they hoped the public would start to have more confidence in service at Riverton Airport, a change that would be crucial for the airport's funding.

The airport receives $1 million in federal funds per year if it has more than 10,000 enplanements. Through June, however, Riverton Regional Airport has barely 4,000. Because that time frame covers half of the year, Griffin predicts the airport will only see 8,000 people flying this year, the lowest figure in many years.

"We're down just a little over 2000," he said.

Enplanements were up in June as well, to 830. Throughout the first half of 2014, they dropped steeply and then rose again from 711 in January, 569 in February, 583 in March, 627 in April and 732 in May.

The airport would have to see 834 enplanements on average every month to hit 10,000.

If the airport does fall short, it would only receive $250,000 from the federal fund. Each year, the disbursement is based on numbers from two years ago, so the Riverton airport would not see the hit until 2016.

The money is used for capital projects and repairs, so losing most of it would not affect operations, Griffin said, but would set back the airport's long-term plans by a year.

The airport board decided to send a letter to Wyoming's congressional delegation asking for an exemption for airports that do not meet the 10,000-enplanement threshold due to erratic airline service. Other airports in Wyoming have made the same request.

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Riverton Regional Airport