County Commissioners express concerns with Great Lakes Airlines reliability

(Riverton Airport Board Chairman Jim Matson, far right, and Riverton Public Works Director Bill Urbigkit met with the Fremont County Commission Monday morning. Joshua Scheer photo.)

(Lander, Wyo.) – Members of the Fremont County Commission expressed displeasure with service from Great Lakes Airlines this morning during the Riverton Airport Board’s budget hearing.

“That reliability is killing that airport,” Commission Vice Chairman Travis Becker said.

The airport board is requesting a slight increase in its allotment from the commission this year, from $96,000 for the current year to $100,000 next fiscal year. Board Chairman Jim Matson presented the budget request to the commission along with City of Riverton Public Work Director Bill Urbigkit.

Matson recognized the board would be operating on deficit this coming year of about $200,000. Revenues are projected to be $438,600, and expenses are projected at $679,621. In efforts to offset the deficit, the board has sold several pieces of property. “We don’t generate enough revenue,” Matson said.  Matson said this year is the deepest the deficit has been for some time.

In talking about the request for county funds, Matson said, “I’ve always said Riverton subsidizes anyone who flies out on a commercial aircraft.” He said the funds provided by the county would be put toward operating costs.

Urbigkit said that about 52 percent of all Fremont County residents who fly out of Riverton are not Riverton residents. “It truly is a county airport,” he said.

He also noted projects planned for the airport this year, including a roughly $1.2 million project on a taxiway and the general aviation apron. The bid deadline was last Wednesday, same as for the Job Corps, Urbigkit said. Only one bid came in on time, and it was $1.8 million, he said. Urbigkit noted that several local contractors turned bids in late, but because of the federal and state monies involved, they could not be accepted past deadline. “I was just so frustrated,” he said, adding that the project will be re-bid.

With regard to service from Great Lakes, Matson agreed there are reliability issues. He said just last week 13 people were left stranded when a plane didn’t arrive. Matson said Great Lakes CEO Chuck Howell will be visiting the airport board during its meeting Friday morning to discuss these issues.

Urbigkit said the positive to using Great Lakes is that Riverton doesn’t have to pay them to fly to Riverton, where some other communities are subsidizing service to their airports. He said Sky West Airlines just announced fee increases to Gillette and Rock Springs while decreasing their level of service.

Becker told Urbigkit that his sister routinely flies out of Casper because she doesn’t trust Great Lakes to be on time. He said she took a chance on them last week, and she missed one of her children’s important soccer games.

Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said her husband flies out every other week and that it is easier for him to plan for the extra driving and make his scheduled meetings on time. “They have to make their meetings,” she said of business travelers. “They can’t afford to be stranded.”

Urbigkit guessed Howell will ask the airport board to find the airline a hangar in Riverton, which could help reliability issues, but he said the city can’t afford to construct one for them. A potential for a private hangar leased to the airline has fallen through, he said. He said he had not done a cost-benefit analysis for whether or not it would help the city to fund the hangar.

Commissioner Larry Allen declined to ask any questions, saying he was saving his for Friday’s meeting.

“I do believe they’re working on it,” Urbigkit said of Great Lakes and the reliability concerns.