Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport Manager Devon Brubaker answers our five questions this week. Brubaker tackles topics like the new General Aviation and Hangar Facility, the solar array, funding, economic impact, and more.
1.The Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport recently broke ground for a new General Aviation Terminal and Hangar Facility. Why is the airport building this new facility, and when will it be open? Also, how is it funded?
On June 13th, the airport broke ground on a new $5.48 million General Aviation Terminal and Hangar Facility. The new facility replaces a decades old facility that dated back to the 1920’s that no longer served the needs of local business or industry. The new facility will include a 5,000 ft2 Terminal that will have passenger lounge, pilot lounge, pilot quiet rooms, office space, meeting space, customer service space, and a workout facility. It will also include a 24,750 ft2 Hangar which will be the largest of its kind in the state. This hangar will support the largest corporate aircraft in the world and will allow the airport to become more viable for aircraft operators year-round. This new facility will allow Sweetwater County to serve the aviation needs of the whole state and the region. It eliminates many barriers to economic development for the community and it creates a beautiful and welcoming gateway for decision makers of existing and future businesses and industries.
The Hangar is scheduled to open in December 2017 with the terminal following shortly after. The project would not be possible without the support from the Wyoming Business Council ($3 million), the Federal Aviation Administration ($2 million), and the Wyoming Department of Transportation – Aeronautics Division ($480,000). Combined, these three funding entities are covering the entire cost of design and construction with no local match.
2. What daily flights are offered at Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport?
United Airlines offers 13 weekly departures to Denver International Airport. From there passengers can connect to over 170 worldwide destinations. The flights operate twice per day except for Saturdays where they operate once per day. The flights are operated on CRJ-200 aircraft which are jet powered aircraft with 50 seats. Flying at over 500 mph, the flight takes less than 45 minutes. Since the launch of this jet service in February 2015, over 99% of flights scheduled have been completed making it a very reliable service.
We recognize that having reliable service is not enough, so we have worked with our airline partners to drive down the cost of airfares. In some cases, we have seen over a 50% reduction in airfares. Starting as low as $198 roundtrip, passengers can get away to Denver for business or a weekend getaway. Some are even taking advantage of the new lower fares to go catch a concert or Rockies game. We expect that a large amount of Broncos fans will be taking advantage this fall. Business travelers have not been forgotten either, we have worked with the airline to secure better flight schedules with more connections to our top 25 destinations.
Not only do we offer this regularly scheduled service, but we also offer flights to Casino flights to Wendover 6 times per year. For as low as $99, passengers will get 3 nights hotel, round-trip airfare, transportation from the Wendover Airport to the hotel, and various coupons. These flights are schedule in July, September, and November this year.
With free parking, easy access, and new more affordable airfares, the community is taking notice and using the airport more frequently. In May 2017 alone, we saw a 19.73% increase in passengers compared to May 2016. For the year to date, we have seen a 10% increase and the advanced bookings for the summer travel season are looking very strong.
3. What is the purpose of the Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport Joint Powers Board, and how is it selected?
The Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport Joint Powers Board is responsible for the oversight and operation of the Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport. It is formed by a 1969 Joint Power Agreement between the City of Rock Springs and Sweetwater County. The City of Rock Springs owns the land and improvements while the two entities agree to financially support the airport for any shortfall it experiences. The Board meets once per month (usually the 2nd Wednesday at 1:00 PM) to discuss and approve contracts, agreements, purchases, and operational activity. The Board is comprised on 3 Sweetwater County Appointees and 2 City of Rock Springs Appointees. Our current Board includes: Jim Wamsley (Chairman), Bret Pizzato (Vice-Chair), Dave Hanks (Secretary & Treasurer), Steve Perry, and Dr. Pete Jensen.
4. What is the solar array at the airport, and how will it benefit the facility? When will it be operational?
This spring the airport was awarded funds from Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Program to construct a 30 kWh solar array that will provide electrical generation for our new General Aviation Terminal and Hangar Facility. The funds will cover 85% of the construction cost. This new solar array will be what we hope is the first of many on airport property. The solar array is expected to reduce our electrical demand by as much 60% in our new facility. We expect construction to begin in July with it becoming operational as soon as the new transformers and meters are installed for the new facility sometime in August. This project would not be possible without the support of Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Partners.
5. How many people fly in and out of the airport, and what kind of economic impact does this have on the community?
The number of people using RKS each year varies on many factors including the local economy. That was demonstrated last year as we only had 32,466 total passengers use the airport which represented a 7.67% reduction over 2015. However, as the local economy has improved and we have begun offering more competitive airfares, we have seen an 8.34% increase in total passengers this year. In April and May, alone, we saw a 20.4% increase in passengers compared to the same two months last year.
The economic impact of the airport to the community and the state is immense. In 2013, the total economic impact of the airport exceeded $29 million. It is our belief that when the next economic impact study is performed by WYDOT next year, this number will be much higher. The economic impact of the airport can be felt by nearly every member of our community from those who order products online to those that seek specialized medical help at our local healthcare facilities. Many people don’t realize that the airport saw over 1.2 million pounds of air freight pass through its facilities in 2016. This included everything from last minute parts for local industry and businesses to those Amazon Prime packages. That number is expected to grow exponentially this year as we have already seen a 15.94% increase compared to last year.
Not many people realize that a large number of the doctors that they see in town do not live here. We have several doctors each day fly in from Casper, Salt Lake City, Laramie, Steamboat Springs and beyond to provide specialized medical care in our community. Without the airport, these specialties would be difficult to have available in Sweetwater County.
In almost every publication regarding site selection for industry and businesses, airport and air service are listed as one of the top 3 reasons why companies choose to relocate or expand their operations in a community. Without the continued growth and stability of our airport, we wouldn’t have a chance of competing with other communities for new or expanded businesses. That is why the airport has taken a proactive approach to ensure that we are an asset for our community and that we make strategic and targeted capital investments to ensure that we can provide all of the necessary services that our community needs.