By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
It’s been a banner year for the Cody Airport.
For the first time in its history, Yellowstone Regional Airport was the host to over 41,000 departing passengers in 2019 — a number that Airport Director Bob Hooper attributed to improvements in air service.
“United brought in enhanced service to Denver, and also Chicago,” Hooper said, “and SkyWest kept their service to Salt Lake City longer than they have in previous years.”
According to a report by airport administration, YRA hosted 41,220 departing passengers, an increase of about 1,000 over enplanements reported in 2018. Total commercial passengers arriving at and departing from the airport this year totaled 81,966.
Yellowstone Regional Airport, the third largest airport in Wyoming, is owned by the City of Cody and operated by a joint powers board with representatives appointed by both the City and Park County Commissioners.
Board Chair Bucky Hall explained that the increase in air service means benefits for Cody’s economy.
“The impact of air service on the local economy is approaching $50 million per year,” Hall said. “As chairman of the airport board, we’re pleased that air service is up here both on the commercial and private side. The increase of more air traffic here just puts more people on the ground here in town.”
Hooper echoed that observation.
“The more passengers that we can bring in through the Yellowstone Regional Airport, especially in the summertime, attributes more money that basically goes to Main Street,” Hooper said. “People spend more money in the hotels, the restaurants, the gift shops, more people go to the museum. It’s a great win for the entire community.”
The boost in summer air traffic canceled out lower numbers seen during the first months of 2019.
“Interestingly, the first five months of the year we were down over 14 percent,” said Hooper, “so we did a big recovery, we recouped all those passengers and we set a record number for 2019.”
Hall is a part of an organization called CYAIR – Cody Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources, a nonprofit group with a mandate to increase air service to the region. He said the group has been successful in lobbying airlines to allow more flights in and out of YRA.
“[United] will have four flights a day during the heart of the summer,” Hall said, adding that SkyWest’s Delta connection to Salt Lake City extended its service to Cody by six weeks this past summer, offering flights for a full six months in 2019.
“We also had a flight from Chicago once a week last year, and we intend to pursue that again this year,” Hall added.
Although much attention locally and statewide has been focused on Cody’s newest and most visible resident, Kanye West, both Hooper and Hall reported that the impact of related private air traffic on the local economy has yet to be measured.
“Fuel sales are up,” said Hooper, “but because everything [Kanye] is doing is private charters, I can’t track it right to him.”
Hooper pointed out that the airport charges landing fees on aircraft weighing more than 9,000 pounds and collects a fee on fuel sales, but was unable to give specifics regarding how those numbers had increased since West purchased a local ranch in September.
Both Hall and Hooper predicted a bright future for air service to Cody.
“The future is unlimited for YRA,” Hooper noted. “The Airport expects another great year in 2020.”