CASPER, Wyo. — In a recent interview with Wyoming News Now, Casper Mayor Bruce Knell expressed strong opposition to providing tax dollars to billion-dollar airline SkyWest and aired concerns about the oversaturation of airports in Wyoming.
Mayor Knell believes a restructuring is necessary, with only an international airport in Casper and another in Jackson remaining operational.
“SkyWest is a 1.2-billion-dollar company. They absolutely should not receive any of taxpayers’ money … to help them with their business.” Mayor Knell further elaborated on the need to eliminate Minimum Revenue Guarantees, or MRGs, statewide.
Such MRGs are agreements between airlines and airports, like the one in Casper, often used to guarantee a certain revenue stream for airlines.
“We need to do away with these MRGs statewide. The state needs to quit funding them. We need to do away with the airport in Gillette, in Rock Springs, in Evanston, in Sheridan, in Cody, in Riverton. they all need to go away. We need to have one international airport in Casper, and one airport in Jackson,” Knell stated in the interview.
The conversation surrounding MRGs isn’t new. In May, Casper city councilors agreed to allocate $50,000 in fiscal year 2024’s budget to ensure SkyWest’s continued service at Casper-Natrona County International Airport.
However, Mayor Knell was clear on his stance even then, highlighting the vast financial size of the company and its requests for community funding.
“They are a $1.2-billion company literally feasting off of every community in the state of Wyoming, pulling their tax dollars under the threat that they are going to pull air service if we don’t fund them,” Knell remarked.
Councilor Amber Pollock noted in May that the financial commitment was a way to ensure the city could either keep the airline or make it sustainable. City Manager Carter Napier suggested using a residual balance in direct distribution for this purpose.
As shared by Fly Casper Alliance in May, no airport in Wyoming currently operates commercial air service without some form of MRG support, acquired from local, state and federal funding sources.
The alliance also hoped to transition to larger aircraft to potentially make routes like those of SkyWest profitable year-round, thereby reducing the financial burden on the local and state communities.
Additionally, in March the Natrona County Board of County Commissioners approved a pricier MRG with Delta Air Lines to ensure its continued operation at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport.
With concerns about creating a monopoly and potential detrimental ripple effects on local and business air travel, many see MRGs as a necessary compromise for the time being.
County Commissioner Dallas Laird said in March that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with paying that much money to a business, though he added he thinks it’s important to keep Delta.
“We need to have a couple of airlines in here; we really do,” Laird said. “The problem is, and they’ve addressed it, is that once one leaves it’s like an ex-wife — she ain’t going to come back.”