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Airport

A plane parks at Casper/Natrona International Airport earlier this winter. The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill that will allow the state to create a state-run air service plan.

Josh Galemore, Casper Star-Tribune

Wyoming is nearing a turning point. Will we continue to rely on volatile industries? Will we become stagnant and grow obsolete? Or will we look to many of our neighbors in the West and take their lead in diversifying our economy? Many of the state’s leaders are opting for the latter.

Endow, an initiative led by Gov. Matt Mead, has identified a number of ways Wyoming can evolve to diversify its economy and to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. And legislation sponsored by Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, seeks a creative way to provide a key opportunity for economic growth and diversification: reliable air service.

It’s a luxury often taken for granted in larger metros throughout the U.S. Air service connects people to the rest of the world, and it’s cultural and economic value cannot be understated.

With significant land mass and a significantly low population, the Cowboy State hasn’t had an easy time securing reliable air service for its residents. That has, in many ways, crippled some rural communities because without nearby air service businesses are far less likely to open up shop.

Currently, the state offers airlines subsidies to service smaller airports. The problem with this model is that there’s nothing keeping the airlines from canceling flights or pulling out of the market entirely. And airports can’t control how much airlines charge for tickets or when flights are scheduled. The airports, then, are subject to the whims of the carriers.

Von Flatern’s proposal, which passed the Legislature last month, aims to create a state-run carrier. The purpose of the measure is to allow the state to contract directly with airlines to serve Wyoming’s airports. The state can then determine which routes will be available, at what times of day and for what cost. With the help of input from local communities, the available air service can be a direct reflection of what the residents need and want.

That increased control and reliability will give the state a leg up in diversifying its economy. And it’s expected to save the state quite a bit of money, with one estimate bringing the cost down to $15 million over 10 years from the $32 million currently spent over the same period on guaranteed payments to airlines operating in the state.

Like high-speed internet, reliable air service is integral to growing an economy. Gov. Mead and the Legislature got this right. Wyoming’s road to diversification will require the state to provide more direct connections to its neighbors and the world at large.

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