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Airport officials say Western Nebraska Regional Airport continues to see return on investment with SkyWest

Irene NorthJanuary 17, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — The one thing watched more at Western Nebraska Regional Airport in 2018 than planes taking off and landing was the number of boardings.

For several years, the airlines who flew out of Scottsbluff, first Great Lakes Airlines and then Pen-Air, were plagued by pilot shortages, delays and cancellations. Many people had given up hope of ever having reliable service again. SkyWest took off on Jan. 30, 2018, and the public embraced the change wholeheartedly.

By the end of 2018, total boardings at the airport were 14,947, which included SkyWest, medical flights and charter flights. SkyWest alone had 13,150 passengers. For January, through Jan. 16, the airport has boarded 841 passengers. Assistant Airport Director Cheryl Clause said estimates for the entire month is at 1,643.

Questions are still arising about whether another flight, or turn-around, will be offered, but the numbers are not quite there yet. It isn’t as simple as just adding more flights. The airport works under the Essential Air Service (EAS) program from the federal government, which guarantees small communities can maintain a minimal level of air service.

“We hear the same thing that people wish to have a midday turn on the weekend,” said Raul Aguallo, airport director. “The only way we can do that is if we drop one during the week and we don’t want to do that.”

Under that EAS, the government will only pay for 12 flights per week. For the airport in Scottsbluff to increase flights, they must consistently be flying at 80 percent capacity.

“We’re hanging in the 50-60 percent right now,” Clause said. “We think we will climb higher this year, but until we are closer to that 80 percent, they (SkyWest) won’t consider more flights.”

Aguallo said other things out of the airport’s control also factor in to when flights occur. Those changes are based on what United Airlines does. When they do their “turns” is what controls feeder airports like Scottsbluff. Aguallo said he didn’t think the early flight out of Scottsbluff would ever change because United wants to have all their early passengers out of Denver by around 8 a.m.

On Feb. 14, however, the 4 p.m. flight will be changing. It will arrive from Denver at 2:20 p.m. and depart from Scottsbluff at 2:50, getting closer to the earlier request of midday, but sacrificing the late afternoon flight.

“Those times are based on SkyWest and United,” Clause said.

Time are approximate and could change. For the most up-to-date flight information, visit SkyWest or United’s website.

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