Commission hears about county airports potential

BY BARBARA ANNE GREENE 

Todd and Joel Simmons of Choice Aviation discussed the potential of greater economic development at the two airports in the county at the Dec. 17 meeting of the Big Horn County Commission.

Choice Aviation is based at the Cody Airport. Todd Simmons told the commission that there is a huge difference between county-owned, fixed base-operated airports and private operations for profit. He said, “If you build it, they’ll come.” 

He suggested that perhaps a work session in the future would be appropriate but for now wanted to give the commission an overview about the potential of private operations of the airports. 

Todd told the commissioners that Choice Aviation has multiple departments: fixed-wing operations, airports and line operations, flight and maintenance. Choice covers airports in Cody, West Yellowstone, Ennis, Mont., and Hamilton, Mont.

They have a fleet of 28 aircrafts and operate everything between “super cubs and jets.” Most of their work is done in the private sector but they also do fixed and rotor wing for the state, Wyoming Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Yellowstone National Park. 

“In our line operations side of it, we have been involved in the airport management of two of our facilities,” Todd said. He said the line side is also the concierge side of the facilities. That includes hanger, accommodations, car rental, catering and fuel — anything people need when they come and go from an airport. 

Their company model is destination based. Todd said, “As a resident of Big Horn County, Cowley and Greybull aren’t destination based in those terms. Just in sheer volume of fuel is a good indicator of the amount of traffic coming through an airport facility.” 

He continued by pointing out that the county airports are in the 20-30,000 gallon range of fuel sold. Choice is in the 1.6 million gallon range. The Ennis airport was pumping 20,000 gallons when Choice took over. Last year 220,000 gallons were pumped. Choice put a couple million dollars in infrastructure into that airport to attract a new clientele. 

After asking for information about how the county airports are run, Todd said that they are committed to their airports on a community level. They bring activities like fly-ins and air shows to simulate economic development. 

He also discussed the impact Kayne West has had on the Cody airport, including the flying in of 737s, airbuses and shuttling people. “When they bring those aircraft in from Oakland, California, that is a million dollar event. Flying security in, bringing rental cars and shuttles from Jackson Hole, bringing shuttle people down from Bozeman. This is the guy that is responsible for orchestrating all those events and logistics,” Todd said, referring to Joel. 

With West’s recent purchase of a ranch in the Big Horn Mountains, the Greybull airport could be impacted as well. “The problem is, the airport cannot accommodate them. You don’t have the infrastructure, the personnel, the know-how of how to facilitate those events. So they will come to Cody. That county will generate all the economic activity and then they will shuttle them over to the ranch. It will come but who will be involved in it and who will see to it that it happens?” asked Todd. 

He continued that there are several operators in Big Horn County that week after week drop their guests off in Greybull and then reposition the aircrafts to Cody, where the aircraft and crews are taken care of. Todd estimated that it costs operators $5,000 to $10,000 each time to do the repositioning. 

Todd recommended that the commission bring back an airport board. 

The commission agreed that they would like further discussion with Choice.