Green River Star -

By David Martin

$158,000 subsidy approved


Flights will continue out of the Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport with financial help from the Green River City Council last night.

The council voted to approve paying $158,000 for its contribution to subsidize commercial flights at the airport. The airport subsidy has been a topic of concern for the Sweetwater County Commissioners during the past few months, believing the council’s support of the subsidy to be waning due to the amount of money they’re required to pay.

Concerns about the amount the subsidy has cost the city were raised by Councilman Tom McCullough, who said he is in favor of the subsidy, but warned future city councils to watch the amount they pay closely.

The amount Green River has paid into the subsidy increased significantly during the past several years. The first year, in 2008, the city didn’t pay into the subsidy despite budgeting $39,000 for it. The following year, the council again budgeted $39,000, but only paid $9,346. During 2010, the subsidy increased to $51,300, where it has remained steady until this year with the $158,000 request.

“It’s jumped incrementally though the years,” McCullough said.

So far, a majority of the subsidy is covered by the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division, which pays 65 percent of the total subsidy to SkyWest, the airline operating out of the airport. The remaining 45 percent is split between the county and the two cities, with Green River covering 22 percent of the remaining amount paid by the three entities.

Sweetwater County Commissioner John Kolb said the county may see some savings when SkyWest switches to Canadian Regional Jets, away from the Brasilia turbo prop planes it currently operates at the airport. The yearly operation costs for the CRJs is estimated to be $700,000, less than half of the $2.042 million needed to operate the Brasilias currently used. Additionally, parts for the CRJs are readily available in Denver and Salt Lake City, the two destinations available from Rock Springs.

The largest benefit in switching comes from the extra seating the CRJs offer compared to the Brasilias. Each CRJ offers 50 seats as opposed to the Brasilia’s 32 seats. The jets also are not affected by air density issues that affect the Brasilias during the summer, reducing the number of seats available from 32 to 14. Kolb said the transition is expected to occur sometime during first or second quarters of 2015.

However, before that occurs, the airport will lose one flight to Salt Lake City, something Kolb said would have cost the county more than $1.3 million to maintain.

The long-term nature of the subsidy is something Mayor Hank Castillon attempted to underline while speaking about the airport funding.

“This is not just something we’re going to do this year,” Castillon said.

Kolb sees the subsidy as the main reason air service continues in Sweetwater County, noting that larger communities than Green River or Rock Springs have lost air service.

“If we weren’t involved in this, we wouldn’t have community air service,” Kolb concluded.


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