Natrona County Wants More Help Paying To Guarantee Air Service

An air guarantee agreement with SkyWest to provide service between Casper and Salt Lake City pays off, but Natrona County commissioners said Tuesday they want more help paying for it.

Dale Killingbeck

February 22, 20245 min read

Natrona Airport 2 21 24
(Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — Potentially paying $645,000 for six months to keep the Casper/Natrona County International Airport’s connection to Salt Lake City and its Delta Airlines hub is worth it.

That’s the because the economic value of having that air access for Casper and central Wyoming is much more than that, FlyCasper Alliance Board Chair Kaycee Wiita and Airport Director Glenn Januska told Natrona County commissioners Tuesday.

That money is the maximum the county could pay under an air guarantee program that incentivizes SkyWest Airlines to keep its Casper to SLC route running from Jan. 1 through June 30.

The agreement basically ensures the airline will sell a minimum number of seats for the daily flight. If sales dip below that threshold, the guarantee kicks in to pay SkyWest the difference up to a little more than $1 million.

The $645,000 is the local buy-in of a 60-40 arrangement with the state of Wyoming, with Natrona County responsible for 60% of the guarantee. The first bill will arrive around April 1 and will be based on the number of seats SkyWest fills in its early morning flight for the first quarter.

Still Worth It

Over the course of a year, the county potentially could pay out nearly $1.3 million to keep the SkyWest flight, but also could pay much less if those flights sell more seats. Either way, losing the flight would cost Casper and the county more than the guarantee, Wiita and Januska said.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who believe it is really important for the ongoing development of Casper to continue with this flight,” Wiita said. “Especially while we’ve got a lot of things in the works.

“I’ve done a community study where it wasn’t focused on any group specifically, but on individuals. The response is overwhelmingly from people asked that question, that we need to keep this funding and that it would be devastating to lose their direct connection to Salt Lake City.”

Those things include the region’s application to be the site for a $10 million shooting complex, new businesses, the Wyo Sports Ranch complex that is under construction and a potential air show.

What’s Fair?

While commissioners understand the need and impact of the air guarantee, they said the program also continues to morph beyond its initial support.

Januska agreed that initially the minimum guarantee was to cover fuel costs, then the airline outlined a need for risk mitigation issues, then pilot wage issues, and now just an ongoing need for the money.

“It may seem that the goal posts are changing and maybe to a certain degree they are being moved for legitimate reasons,” he said. “I understand from the county’s standpoint there are other goals and responsibilities.”

But he said should the county opt not to continue the agreement and SkyWest pulls its flight, it would be difficult to get another airline to come in.

“We can’t keep sustaining this,” said Commissioner David North. “I’m not disagreeing that the flight is valuable to the community, but what I do disagree with is that the county should not be the one that bears the burden of this.”

Commission Chairman Peter Nicolaysen said that the benefit is to the county “generally,” but really the city of Casper benefits the most.

“While we want to support an airport … I’m feeling a little used,” he said. “I appreciate the state’s contribution at that 40% level. I would like to see it swapped to a 60-40 instead of a 40-60. It’s almost like it is taken for granted that the county will do this.”

Wiita said she has spoken with the city of Casper about contributing $200,000 to the payment, but Nicolaysen said that didn’t seem to be “a fair reflection of the benefit that it receives and businesses within the city that they receive.”

Nicolaysen said the county is looking for partnership from other communities and businesses to help carry the payment burden forward.

Looking To Future

Commissioner Steven Freel cautioned that it is important to look at the future before deciding against the continued funding. He pointed to information about the shooting complex drawing 400 or more competitors to an event and a national junior college competition, as well as business expansion and air cargo.

“To sell ourselves short now and say, ‘Oh, well we’re getting tired of paying this … there are ways to figure this out,” he said. “It seems very shortsighted to sit here and say the answer to it is quit paying. … You have to look forward and to what the future will bring.”

Wiita has 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 air guarantee investment.

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

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

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

Share this article



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.