Jun 11, 2017 - By Steven R. Peck, PublisherThe airline has done all we've asked; let's give it another year of assistance as the air market recovers
A year ago, Denver Air Connection made a commitment to Fremont County when it agreed to begin daily jet airline service from Riverton Regional Airport to Denver.
Fremont County governments made a commitment to Denver Air as well, agreeing to a minimum revenue guarantee that would ensure the small-but-ambitious carrier would keep flying for a full year.
It's time to renew that commitment.
The first-year performance has more than proved the worth of the plan, and the value of commercial air service to our county by now ought to go without saying. As the local air market continues a remarkable recovery, Denver Air needs another year of financial assistance -- and deserves it.
Our airport boarded 10,000 passengers or more for many years. In fact, boardings averaged more than 12,000 a year for a solid decade beginning in 2004. Only when Great Lakes Airlines began to totter in 2014 did boardings dip below 10,000. Things really hit bottom in 2015, when boardings fell to just 3,525 as Great Lakes cancelled hundreds of flights due to a pilot shortage. The flights that remained virtually never departed on time.
Fremont County's tourism traffic suffered greatly. So did its business community. So did its reputation as a top-tier Wyoming community. Poor air service can do that to a place.
The arrival of Denver Air Connection reversed the decline, immediately and dramatically. Boardings grew by 20 percent last year after DAC's jet began roaring out of Riverton Regional every morning. And remember, that increase came in just six months of service. DAC only started flying on July 1.
This year, the entire total of 2016 already has been surpassed, and it's only June. Before Great Lakes, which briefly had improved its performance but since has stumbled again, the 10,000-enplanement total (and the $1 million in federal funding that comes with it), seemed achievable. Even so, we're still on target to approach 9,000 boardings for the year.
And consider these numbers: Denver Air Connection's on-time percentage is 94 percent -- second best in the nation. And in the 50 weeks the airline has been serving Fremont County, it has completed more than 99 percent of its flights. The couple that were cancelled happened when Denver International was closed by bad weather.
Denver Air has done everything Fremont County could have wanted. It has restored reliable service. Its fares are lower. It flies a bigger, swifter, more-comfortable plane. It gets us to Denver faster, usually ahead of the scheduled time. It has improved its baggage, security and gate positions at DIA. (Furthermore, the president of the company often flies the jet personally. and sometimes he brings donuts.)
Most local travelers probably have no idea what a longshot the airline agreement was last year. Other, bigger communities in the region served by struggling Great Lakes Airlines had lost service completely. There was no assurance -- none at all -- that any airline would look at Fremont County. It is to the great credit of the Fremont Air Service Task Force that any arrangement was made, regardless of the carrier.
It came about because of cooperation among the other parties at the urging and persuasion of the task force. A balance was struck with the airline and the local governments of Fremont County, which committed money to help DAC cover its expenses.
Denver Air is asking for less money this year, because passenger number have been strong. Another year like this one, and the subsidy might not be needed as all.
Let's find out. Now it not the time to pull the rug from under Denver Air connection. Doing so would leave the mission half-finished, just when it looks most promising.
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