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City, county officials respond to former Casper mayor’s call to close nearly all Wyoming airports

City and county leaders this week sent a letter to the City of Casper expressing displeasure at comments from former mayor Bruce Knell who advocated for closing airports across Wyoming.

An airplane at Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport on June 13, 2023. (Mary Stroka/County 17)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Gillette and Campbell County leaders sent a letter to the City of Casper this week expressing displeasure at comments from former mayor Bruce Knell, who advocated for closing airports across Wyoming.

Knell made the comments in an interview with Wyoming News Now decrying minimum revenue guarantees, or MRGs, between the City of Casper and the Casper-Natrona County International Airport.

According to the Airport Cooperative Research Program, MRGs are a type of incentive offered to airlines guaranteeing they will generate a specified amount of revenue from ticket sales. 

“If the airline does not meet the target revenue, the local entity providing the guarantee makes a cash payment to the airline for the shortfall,” according to the ACRP.

The former Casper mayor stated that SkyWest, which services the airport, is a $1.2 billion company that shouldn’t receive taxpayer dollars to help with their business, which is essentially no different than another business approaching local government asking for financial help with their business, Wyoming News Now reports. 

In efforts to search for ways to limit the Casper MRG, Knell said there weren’t enough passengers flying in and out of Casper due to an oversaturation of airports in the state and said MRGs need to be done away with statewide, per Wyoming News Now. 

Knell told Wyoming News Now that airports in Rock Springs, Evanston, Sheridan, Cody, Riverton and Gillette need to go away in favor of having one international airport in Casper and another in Jackson. 

Regional leaders, however, disagree, and sent a letter on Sept. 25 signed by Campbell County Commission Chairwoman Colleen Faber, Gillette Mayor Shay Lundvall and Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport Director Todd Chatfield summarizing the fiscal and socioeconomic benefits regarding the local airport. 

The letter acknowledged that Knell is no longer Casper’s mayor following his resignation earlier this month amid domestic violence allegations, but felt the former mayor’s comments still needed to be addressed.

“The Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport is a critical asset for our business travelers. National and international manufacturing and energy companies rely on dependable, consistent air service to and from Gillette,” the letter states. “Commercial air service ensures Wyoming’s dominance as an energy provider and is a key contributor to the fiscal stability of our state.”

Per the letter, the local airport accounts for $36.5 million in annual economic activity, including $23 million in annual spending while employing 399 residents and generating over $1.2 million in total state and local sales tax revenue. 

Additionally, flights leaving and arriving in Gillette consistently exceed 85% capacity and without the Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport, patrons would likely travel out of state — to Rapid City, South Dakota, or Billings, Montana — for commercial air service, the letter says. 

The regional airport is a critical asset for residents and visitors alike, especially with the upcoming 2024 Pathfinders International Camporee, which is projected to bring over 50,000 tourists to the area, per the letter. 

“Other events, like the National High School Finals Rodeo, rely on the Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport for commercial travel,” the letter states. “These special events boost sales tax and other revenue for Wyoming cities, towns, and counties.”

The letter concludes with the hope expressed by the senders that the City of Casper would better understand how the Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport impacts the region.  

“Our goal is for communities across Wyoming to continue to work hand in hand to support statewide air service — we’re better together!” the letter says.

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