CHEYENNE – The Laramie County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an unconditional pledge of $600,000 to help subsidize a new commercial airline at Cheyenne Regional Airport.
The funds will be combined with another $600,000 from the Cheyenne City Council, $200,000 in federal funding and, possibly, $580,000 from the state’s Air Service Enhancement Program once a carrier contract is solidified. The Cheyenne Regional Air Focus Team, a private fundraising group, has also raised $103,250 toward the effort.
Fundraisers now have more than $2 million that may be used to attract an airline to offer commercial service here – the overwhelming majority of which is public funding.
CRAFT is also requesting another $100,000 from the Cheyenne-Laramie County Economic Development Joint Powers Board.
“A lack of reliable air service has been identified as one of the top barriers to economic diversification in Wyoming,” said CRAFT President Wendy Volk. “Businesses are reluctant to relocate to a large rural state like Wyoming without passenger air service.”
The subsidy, known as a minimum revenue guarantee, is an effort to bring commercial service back to Cheyenne Regional Airport at a critical time following the March shutdown of Great Lakes Airlines.
The airport was already facing public pressure to draw new options before the once-a-week service to Denver International Airport ended, with $18 million in taxpayer-funded projects, including a new terminal, scheduled for completion this fall.
The county’s resolution has no conditions for the money’s use, so officials could put the subsidy toward an agreement with any carrier flying to any destination.
This varies slightly from the city’s resolution, which included language emphasizing safe and reliable service.
CRAFT documents suggest funding a minimum revenue guarantee for a leisure route to Las Vegas or Phoenix would cost $2.6 million to $3.3 million, while a business hub to Dallas/Fort Worth would cost up to $4 million.
The plan is to eventually offer both leisure and business markets to regional travelers.
Because the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s negotiations with airlines have been kept private, it is unclear which airlines and destinations are currently under consideration or how much subsidy they will require.
“We have been told that we have airlines that would be very receptive to opening negotiations here within the next 30 to 45 days,” Volk said. “Once we go through that negotiation, we would ideally be able to announce something this summer and sell tickets in time for the new terminal opening in November.”
While every commissioner supported the resolution, Troy Thompson and Buck Holmes expressed apprehension with such a sizable subsidy.
“This is a lot of money,” Thompson said. “It is the taxpayers’ money, and we need to take these decisions very seriously.”
Holmes said the effort also goes against his faith in the free market.
“It bothers me when we have to subsidize, but I look at this as seed money,” Holmes said. “If you don’t plant the seed, you won’t have any crop.”