By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Air travel boomed at small Wyoming airports in 2021 after a bleak 2020.
Both Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody and Central Wyoming Regional Airport in Riverton reported huge increases in passenger numbers in 2021. Fremont County’s commercial service exceeded 15,000 passenger boardings for the first time in 13 years, totaling 15,121.
Central Wyoming Regional Airport administrators reported that in the last twenty years, only calendar years 2007 (15,559) and 2008 (16,847) saw recorded more commercial boardings than 2021.
Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody saw an 82% increase in passengers in 2021 as compared to the previous year to total 37,346, according to airport Manager Aaron Buck.
“And then if you compare (2021) to 2019 — which, 2019 was a really good year for us still, because COVID hadn’t really started yet — we’re only down 9%, which is pretty good compared to the national average,” he said.
Because the area is a big draw for tourists, the number of people flying in and out of Cody is an indication of a good year for the economy and a bright spot in an otherwise challenging year for the airport, which included a number of COVID-related flight cancellations the last week of December.
“The week after Christmas wasn’t so great with all the cancellations,” Buck said. “Again, that goes back to the same crew shortages and pilot shortages that are felt at Delta, and United is feeling now as well, in having to cancel some flights.”
United Airlines has the statewide contract for air service to smaller communities in the state, according to Tim Bradshaw, the new administrator for Cheyenne Regional Airport.
“We all fly SkyWest Airlines with United,” he explained. “It’s all part of a state program with the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission.”
Cheyenne’s flights have just recently resumed after traffic was shut down for runway construction during most of 2021. But Bradshaw acknowledged that after the difficult year that was 2020, people are certainly eager to travel again.
“People are back to flying,” he said. “They are not so much business travelers, but more of the leisure travelers. There’s just a lot of pent up demand.”
Kyle Butterfield, Fremont County’s public works director and airport manager, pointed out that the record-setting numbers at Riverton’s airport were a significant accomplishment for the community.
“Thanks to the investment and dedication of our partners through the years, we have finally returned to the level of service we knew was possible in Fremont County,” he said.
And those numbers actually translate to funding for Riverton’s air service. When passenger boardings exceed 10,000 in a calendar year, airports become eligible for $1 million in federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds for infrastructure projects.
Central Wyoming Regional Airport reached the threshold of 10,000 boardings for the first time in eight years on Sept. 16, 2021.The latter part of 2021 was record-setting for Cody’s air service as well, according to Buck.
“Actually, this November and December are our best November and December in the last three years,” he said. “Even better than 2019 or 2018, which is way pre-COVID.”
But the industry is still recovering from the pandemic.
“I know that nationwide, traffic is still not back to pre pandemic levels,” said Bradshaw. “And the majority of people flying now are still just leisure travelers, a lot of the corporate fliers have not returned to flying yet.”