Natrona County Officials Question $1.3 Million Price Tag For One Flight Per Day

Some local officials are questioning a deal that saw Natrona County and Casper pay more than $1.3 million last year to guarantee a single SkyWest flight in and out of the local airport.

Dale Killingbeck

January 11, 20245 min read

The subsidized SkyWest Delta connection at Casper/Natrona County Airport needed more than $1.3 million in 2023.
The subsidized SkyWest Delta connection at Casper/Natrona County Airport needed more than $1.3 million in 2023. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

CASPER — The early morning departures and late evening arrivals of SkyWest’s only daily flights in and out of the Casper/Natrona County International Airport are experiencing some bureaucratic turbulence.

Some members of the Natrona County Commission want more information about the annual deal that maintains the SkyWest flights while a few Casper City Council members question whether the current level of service does much to boost passenger numbers.

In the past year, the city and county have paid more than $1.3 million to guarantee SkyWest’s lone flight in and out of Casper.

A representative from SkyWest Airlines met with members of the commission and council Tuesday at respective work sessions to advocate for continued payments to fund a single flight to Salt Lake City and make Delta connections.

The money, commonly referred to as an air guarantee, basically guarantees a minimum level of ticket sales as an incentive for SkyWest to serve a local airport. If sales fall short, the air guarantee money is paid to make up for that.

Director of Market Development for SkyWest Airlines Daniel Belmont told the Casper City Council at its work session that those air service guarantees will be needed at least through 2025.

“We don’t want to be in the position where we have to withdraw a route,” Belmont said, adding the best thing is allow the service to “continue to mature and gain ridership.”

SkyWest makes connections for Delta Airlines to Salt Lake City, and first came to Natrona County asking for a minimum revenue guarantee (MRG) after the pandemic emptied flights and created havoc across the country.

Airport Entry Sign
(Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

$1.3 Million Investment

Information from the commission’s office shows Natrona County has paid $1.355 million for the SkyWest MRG in the past year. Reimbursements from Advance Casper and Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics have totaled $572,014. The county’s net costs to date are $783,227.

The city of Casper has invested $50,000 in a marketing campaign for the flight.

Natrona County Commission Vice Chairman Jim Milne has supported the funding in the past, but said he is rethinking his vote on the county’s support.

“You are starting to see a lot of hesitancy toward this program. I do see the economic benefit,” Milne said, adding that the “initial expectation” provided by the airline has changed and the airline’s needs are now longer term and much more expensive.

Commissioner Dave North, who has voted consistently against the MRG, said it is much more expensive than the $440,000 that local officials were first approached with and supported air service for 10 months. He said the county does not get to provide any input or guidance on their investment.

“They could pull out at any time. There is no long-term contract,” he said. “I don’t like being put in a position where it is our ball and we are going to go home.”

FlyCasper Alliance Board Chair Kaycee Wiita said she believes it’s important for Casper to be linked with air service to regional air hubs in Denver and Salt Lake City. United Airlines flights from Casper to Denver do not involve an MRG.

Nearly 90,000 Passengers In 2023

Data from Casper/Natrona County Airport shows 89,467 passenger departures and arrivals on the MRG flight for the calendar year 2023. Arrivals topped departures in every month.

Wiita said a study of the Salt Lake City flight from June 2022 to July 2023 commissioned with WYDOT Aeronautics showed that the region reaped an $11 million benefit from the MRG investment.

“Something that is very important to understand is that there are a lot of communities in our country that are small rural communities, like Casper, that have no commercial air service and they all need it for their economy,” she said. “And they regularly pitch regional airlines like SkyWest to come into their communities, but it’s a very, very competitive field out there and there are not enough planes or pilots to fly those planes.”

Wiita said the county currently has $100 million in economic development projects in the works that will come to fruition over the next few years such as the Wyoming Sports Ranch, the recent arrival of the Scottsdale Mint and others. The air link is a big part of that development, she said, expressing optimism that passenger numbers now between 50 - 60 percent, on the Delta connection to Salt Lake City will pick up and the MRG will be reduced and eventually eliminated.

She said Natrona County is not being singled out by the airline.

“They asked for an MRG in every community that they fly into except St. George (Utah), where they are headquartered,” Wiita said.

Flight Timing

Casper City Councilor Jai-Ayla Sutherland questioned at the city council work session why SkyWest chose the early departure and late arrival schedule. She wondered if different hours would generate better traffic. Sutherland said she flies often for her work and the Delta connection does not make sense for her schedule, even though she likes flying Delta.

Casper Mayor Steve Cathey pointed to the costs of tickets and said it was cheaper for him to drive to Salt Lake City, stay overnight, and catch a flight from there.

Belmont said the airline could look again at the timing of the route which currently is focused on business travel. He said ticket prices depend on many variables.

The service will remain just one flight a day for now, Belmont said, due to the limited pilots and planes for the various communities the airline services.

Wiita emphasized the importance of maintaining the MRG for the region.

“There is a town in New Mexico that would love SkyWest,” Wiita said. “If Natrona County does not pay the MRG, they have a lot of communities that want our route.”

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

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Dale Killingbeck


Killingbeck is glad to be back in journalism after working for 18 years in corporate communications with a health system in northern Michigan. He spent the previous 16 years working for newspapers in western Michigan in various roles.