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Airport moves ahead in 2021

According to a Wyoming Department of Transportation study, Wyoming’s airports generate $87.7 million dollars per year in tax revenue for state and local governments, and over $2 billion dollars in overall economic activity.
United Airlines says it lost $1.63 billion in the second quarter as the coronavirus caused air...
United Airlines says it lost $1.63 billion in the second quarter as the coronavirus caused air travel to plunge.(mpi34/MediaPunch/MediaPunch/IPx)
Published: Feb. 14, 2021 at 7:29 PM CST
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - According to a Wyoming Department of Transportation study, Wyoming’s airports generate $87.7 million dollars per year in tax revenue for state and local governments, and over $2 billion dollars in overall economic activity.

But like the other eight commercial airports in the state, Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody was hit hard by the travel restrictions put in place last spring. Doug Johnston, chairman of the YRA board of directors, says their enplanements fell by 50% from 2019 to 2020 - but the federal CARES Act dollars distributed last year have kept them afloat.

“The Federal Government, through the CARES ACT funding, made available about $10 billion dollars to airports,” Johnston says, adding that the amount available to each airport was calculated based on 2018 passenger enplanements.

“That money has to be spent by May 24th of 2024.”

Johnston points out that the airport usually runs at about a $300,000 deficit year to year, which is subsidized by Park County (40%) and the City of Cody (60%). He says the CARES Act funds will ease the burden on local governments.

“YRA has never been a self-sufficient airport, it has always run with a deficit. So we’re just hoping that those projects will increase some of the revenues that we get at the airport, and by 2024, middle of the year, hopefully we’ll have accomplished those goals.”

According to Johnston, the $18 million dollars that was earmarked for YRA can be used for everything from general budget items to capital development projects - so they are putting $5 million into a fund for operations and maintenance, $1.75 million towards a car rental quick turnaround facility, $1 million into general aviation improvements, $5.5 million towards the expansion of the terminal building, a half million into access road upgrades, and $4.2 million into runway approach improvements.

“We’re hoping by May of 2024 we’ve used that money in such a way that Park County and the City of Cody will not have to contribute near as much in the future,” Johnston notes.

And he points out that ongoing projects that were planned before the pandemic hit are still underway - the expansion of the airport parking lot was completed in 2020, doubling the free parking area; four new hangars have been built in the general aviation area; a local developer is working with the board to put in a gas station and convenience store at the entrance to the airport; and even with the reduction in enplanements, Johnston says rental car business has increased in the past year, which is why the project to create a quick turn-around facility for rental cars is timely. And he adds that the private fixed base operation at YRA has thrived during the pandemic.

“We have an FBO on the field that seems to be doing better in the pandemic than the commercial airlines are. Choice Aviation is the only FBO on the field, and they do an excellent job, and I think they’re one of the top FBO’s in the country.”

But YRA has faced other challenges in the past year. In September of last year, former manager Bob Hooper retired, and the facility has been run by an interim since then. Just last week, the board received confirmation that Aaron Buck, who has been the deputy director of operations and safety at Casper Natrona County International Airport, will take over March 8th as the new airport manager.

“It’ll take him a while to get up to speed,” Johnston anticipates, “but we have an excellent staff, and I think that they’ll be able to assist him greatly in getting him transitioned into his new position.”

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