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Natrona County commission votes to keep subsidizing Delta flights to Casper – despite big price tag

A small airplane with "Delta Connection" on its side flies against a bright blue background.
Tomás Del Coro
/
Flickr Creative Commons
The Delta connection between Casper/Natrona County International Airport and Salt Lake City is operated by SkyWest Airlines.

Natrona County will continue to have daily Delta Airlines flights between Casper and Salt Lake City. Commissioners voted 4-1 to continue to subsidize the connection despite a hefty price tag.

The funding is a guarantee to SkyWest Airlines – which runs operations for Delta – through June 30. It pays the difference between what the airline corporations say they need to keep the direct connections profitable and the amount of money they actually earn from passengers. It could cost over a million dollars. The county will pay 60 percent of the costs and the state will pay 40 percent.

Commissioners expressed frustration over this arrangement, with several indicating that this may be the last time they support writing a check of this size. But Commission Chair Peter Nicolaysen said it’s important to keep two airlines in Casper to support local business, tourism and events.

“We've got a number of things going for us, and I think right now to pull out on this would be a bad thing for our community and one that we couldn't recover from for some time,” he said. “If we lose SkyWest and the Delta flight, at this point, I think it's going to be way more difficult to bring in another carrier.”

During discussion, commissioners explored alternative funding options, including asking the City of Casper to eventually take on some of the cost burden. They said other business or nonprofit interest groups – or surrounding cities and counties that fly through the airport – might also be able to pony up.

“We have the money to afford it right now. It isn't like we're robbing Peter to pay Paul. [But] I really don't want to do this for very much longer,” said Commissioner Dallas Laird.

The lone “nay” vote for the funding was Commissioner Dave North, who called the arrangement – known as a “minimum revenue guarantee” – “extortion.” He suggested cutting ties and exploring alternative airlines that might be interested in flying through Natrona County.

Besides the Delta connection to Salt Lake City, United Airlines currently offers daily services between Denver and Casper. Jackson is the only other place in the state with more than one destination option. In 2018, Allegiant Airlines discontinued services between Casper and Las Vegas to focus on larger markets.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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