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The number of passengers who board flights at Riverton Regional Airport has decreased by two-thirds in recent years, the result of travelers scattering to other airports when commercial service from Great Lakes Airlines became sporadic.

Flights are frequently canceled, as the Cheyenne-based company struggles to find pilots with enough training and rest time. People are booking trips through other airports, including Casper/Natrona County International Airport, said Kyle Butterfield, Riverton’s airport manager.

In 2013, 13,000 commercial passengers departed from Riverton. In 2014, the number of passengers declined to 7,600. Last year, it was 3,800.

But Butterfield hopes all of that is about to change. A new air service will begin July 1, when a Colorado company operating under the brand Denver Air Connection will offer daily flights to Riverton and the Sheridan County Airport.

“We’ve definitely seen a shift in the flying public,” Butterfield said. “There’s been some leakage. A new air service provider, we hope, will be able to recapture some of that.”

Great Lakes stopped offering flights in Sheridan over a year ago. The company did not return a message from the Star-Tribune.

Denver Air Connection was drawn to the Wyoming markets through promises of revenue from the state and two communities. The Wyoming Aeronautics Commission approved a $1.2 million grant. Sheridan and Riverton each will provide $795,000, said Sheri Taylor of the Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division.

“This is just a revenue guarantee, which means if the airline doesn’t make enough revenue to cover the cost of the operation, this makes up the difference,” Taylor said. “If the service ends up making enough revenue, then the community and state would pay nothing.”

The flights will touch down in Wyoming three times a day through June 30, 2017.

In the morning, a Denver Air Connection plane will depart Sheridan, stop in Riverton and land in Denver. In the early afternoon, the plane will leave Denver, stop in Riverton and Sheridan and then return to Denver.

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In the evening, it would fly from Denver to Riverton and Sheridan. The plane would be grounded overnight in Sheridan for the next day’s trip, Taylor said.

Sheridan County Airport has had flights with Denver Air Connection since November — about six months after losing Great Lakes — thanks to a state grant. Bruce Garber, one of several Sheridan and Johnson county residents that worked to bring regular commercial service to the airport, said the flights have helped the local economy.

People spend money in Sheridan, Gerber said. That money would have gone to Billings, the closest city with an airport that Sheridan travelers started using when air service was canceled.

“It’s easier to do business and there is more business going on because it is easier to get here,” he said. “This has just been a great project, with collaboration from state and local governments and the private sector.”

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Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.

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