AP NEWS

Airport officials say Skywest cites Scottsbluff as country’s ‘highest producing airport’

March 3, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — The skies are clear in Scottsbluff for the Western Nebraska Regional Airport to continue to grow.

Raul Aguallo, airport director, and Cheryl Clause, assistant airport director, recently flew to St. George, Utah, to meet with Greg Atkin, managing director for SkyWest Airlines, and other airline officials. The meeting was successful for all parties involved.

“They were thrilled with our airport,” Aguallo said. “They said Scottsbluff is the highest producing airport in the country.”

Layne Watson, spokesperson for SkyWest, said the service has been really strong so far.

“We are pleased with the response to service this first year,” Watson said. “We are enjoying a great partnership with the community and want to encourage people traveling there to continue using the service.”

Officials at the airline had expected to see a decline in boarding numbers in January and February, but those numbers have continued to grow.

“They aren’t high travel months,” Watson said. “Across the industry, we typically see lower numbers.”

Community support has been a factor in the positive news. More good news will also be pleasing to passengers’ wallets.

“They (SkyWest) indicated pricing will stay the same and they were happy with where they’re at,” Aguallo said. “We should still see those $59 fares.”

Each flight has several fares at that low price. Aguallo also encouraged people thinking of booking tickets to do it sooner rather than waiting until the last minute.

“Like all air travel, as the plane fills up, the price of the seats go up,” Aguallo said. “If you’re trying to get those last few seats, they’re at a premium.”

Flight times were also recently adjusted to better accommodate moving passengers around the country once they land in Denver. Many flights arrive before 8 a.m., and United Airlines is able to move thousands of passengers so that only a few hundred remain in their terminal in Denver from 9-11 a.m.

“As far as the market is concerned, we have the best time slot available to get people moving east and west,” Aguallo said. “We believe our times are perfect right now.”

Aguallo has continued to discuss other flight times, but the fact remains, until they get to 80 percent capacity, no extra flights will be added. Aguallo is optimistic that will happen.

“We’re boarding 75 percent on that morning flight,” Aguallo said. “We’re going to fill that plane.”

The numbers reflect the support from the community. From the first day SkyWest began flying out of Scottsbluff to Denver, they were there, ready to board. Total passengers for 2018 were at 15,040. For the end of January, there were 1,274 boardings for SkyWest and 1,512 boardings over all.

“SkyWest (officials) were ecstatic about our numbers,” Clause said. “They expect us to be in the 80th percentile.”

February is a short month, and as of Jan. 27, there were 1,332 boardings. More were expected but bad weather in Denver forced a cancellation. Aguallo said SkyWest has done such a good job that only three people chose to drive to Denver.

“Our little airport is becoming something,” Aguallo said.

Many local residents worried that SkyWest could have pilot shortages as they did when PenAir and Great Lakes were the airport’s carrier. That is not a problem. Aguallo said SkyWest is pilot heavy because they pay well. Clause said their pilot training classes have a waiting list through July.

“They are running two classes a month of 40 to 80 people right now,” said Matt Ziegler, airport board authority member.

Ziegler said there was minor grumbling about the flight cancellation, but cautioned everyone to not place SkyWest in the same category as previous carriers in Scottsbluff.

“It can happen anywhere,” Ziegler said. “There was freezing fog and other communities besides ours were impacted.”

Ziegler said the fog stretched for a quarter of a mile, making flying dangerous.

“I know as the traveling public we don’t get it, but I’ve been in that situation where you can’t meet takeoff minimums,” Ziegler said. “Hopefully, people will overlook a weather restriction.”

inorth@starherald.com