Additional flights return to airport beginning in May

After a long period of air service uncertainty, the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport (“RKS”) is pleased to announce the return of a second flight to Denver International Airport (“DEN”) on Thursdays and Saturdays beginning May 4, 2023. Since February 1, 2022, the airport has been served by a single daily flight to DEN. The reduction in flights in 2022 came after the airport had rebounded to pre- pandemic passenger levels at the end of 2021.

Heading into the pandemic, RKS was wrapping up a three-year period of rapid growth in passenger activity, posting its 2nd busiest year on record. With this growth, a third daily flight was announced to be flown during the summer of 2020. The over 96 percent reduction in passenger activity that followed put air service across the country into a tailspin. Despite the return of pre-pandemic demand by the end of 2021, air service was dealt another blow with the accelerating pilot shortage in early 2022.

“While this restoration of service does not return us to pre-pandemic air service levels, it is a definitive step in the right direction,” said Devon Brubaker, Airport Director. “The demand for additional capacity in Southwest Wyoming has been evident since the day the flights were reduced, with well over 80% of available seats sold.”

The partial restoration of pre-pandemic capacity at RKS comes as 324 airports, a shocking 76 percent of the countries’ commercial airports, have substantially less air service than before the pandemic. This is overwhelmingly due to the pilot shortage and has occurred despite rising passenger demand. On average these airports have lost 30 percent of their flights with the smallest airports suffering the greatest impacts. Acting as the proverbial “canary in the coalmine,” in just the last two years alone, 14 U.S. airports have lost all scheduled, commercial air service and 53 airports have lost over half of their flights.

The stark reality is that demand for pilots is far outpacing the available supply, which further exacerbates the existing shortage. Despite the return to pre-COVID demand for air travel and approximately 9,491 new pilots certificated in the last year, nearly 4,000 pilot qualifications were disrupted during the pandemic and more than 415 regional aircraft are currently parked and no longer in service. Despite this good news for Southwest Wyoming, there are no signs that the pilot shortage and its devastating impact on air service will abate anytime soon. Nearly half of today’s qualified pilot workforce faces mandatory retirement within 15 years, and 2,225 pilots face mandatory retirement this year; more than 10 percent of the workforce must retire within 5 years. Even as the retirement crisis grows, prospective pilots face financial access barriers to career training thanks to arbitrarily training requirements set by Congress, which are insurmountable for individuals and families without wealth or the means to obtain private loans.

“We are pleased that our airline partner, SkyWest Airlines, recognizes the potential of our market and is willing to dedicate valuable and limited resources to build our capacity, one-step at a time,” Brubaker said. “Additional capacity restoration is possible as our market proves that the demand will continue to meet and/or exceed the available capacity. However, the needed solution to cure what ails our industry must come from Congress through regulatory reform. To this end, my colleagues from around the country and I continue to press Congress to take action in the upcoming FAA Reauthorization to address the aviation workforce challenges.”

The initial schedule for this additional capacity is as follows:

Departs DEN at 12:30 pm and Arrives at RKS at 1:39 pm

Departs RKS at 2:14 pm and Arrives at DEN at 3:36 pm

Travelers can begin booking these additional flights on immediately for travel through the end of June. For travel beyond June, flight schedules will be updated in the coming weeks to allow for booking.


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