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Great Lakes Airlines

Passengers exit a Great Lakes Airlines flight from Denver after it landed at the Cheyenne Regional Airport in 2011.

CHEYENNE – Cheyenne Regional Airport leaders heard some good news recently.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House and Senate approved a bill to help rural airports affected by downturns in regional air service.

The bill would make sure that rural airports would get federal money from the Airport Improvement Program.

It would provide $850,000 in federal money to the Cheyenne airport in fiscal year 2017. President Barack Obama still must decide whether to sign it.

“It’s great news; it’s excellent news,” Jim Schell said of the bill. He is the deputy director of aviation at the Cheyenne airport.

“We’re glad that – albeit a bit later than we had hoped – Congress has passed the bill,” he said.

The money will help build a new passenger terminal at the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration provides rural airports with $1 million a year if they meet certain passenger requirements.

They must have 10,000 enplanements a year, which means 10,000 passengers who leave from the local airport.

Airports that miss the mark get $150,000.

Cheyenne met the standard year after year until 2015, when its enplanements fell well below 10,000.

The reason was because Great Lakes Airlines, the commercial air service for Cheyenne, experienced a drastic decline in flights.

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Great Lakes officials said the drop occurred because of a pilot shortage brought about by new federal flying time regulations for regional airline pilots.

The new legislation allows airports to use the number of enplanements recorded in 2012. This was before the new pilot regulations took effect.

Airports that had more than 10,000 enplanements in 2012 would get full funding for fiscal year 2017.

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, said in a news release that the bill would “provide the critical funds that small airports in Wyoming need to play a vital transportation role.”

What happens after that is not clear because the bill speaks only to fiscal year 2017.

“It is a temporary fix for a systematic problem. It’s not just Cheyenne that is feeling the effects of this,” Schell said.

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