SkyWest Airlines’ first full year of round-trip Denver service to the North Platte Regional Airport continued the upbeat story of its 2018 local debut.

Unofficial 2019 traffic figures from the North Platte Airport Authority showed 15,974 boardings and 15,342 deplanements by the airport’s regular passenger flights.

Both figures were about 23% ahead of the previous year, when SkyWest (flying as United Express) restored Lee Bird Field’s connections with Denver International Airport on Feb. 1, 2018.

Airport Manager Sam Seafeldt said the traffic figures won’t be final before summer and don’t include passengers on charter flights to and from the airport.

But as a measure of SkyWest’s popularity, he said, the 2019 figures “are the exact reason SkyWest wanted to renew (its service) for three years this time.”

Utah-based SkyWest, which flies 50-seat jets to and from DIA, signed a three-year extension of Essential Air Service subsidies in October with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

SkyWest in 2018 received an initial two-year EAS contract for 12 round trips a week. North Platte was without Denver service for 3½ months after bankrupt PenAir pulled out in September 2017.

SkyWest flights have been consistently popular in North Platte, winning high marks for affordability and reliability not often seen since the original Frontier Airlines left in the 1980s.

Even after figuring the airline’s total average 2018 North Platte traffic on an 11-month basis, its average monthly boardings and deplanements for all of 2019 grew by nearly 23% over 2018.

SkyWest’s nearly 16,000 2019 boardings were more than half again as many as the minimum 10,000 needed to maintain the airport’s eligibility for federal Airport Improvement Program aid, Seafeldt said.

He added that SkyWest’s commitment to advertising its Denver service locally has been critical. “We’re very thankful for the money it’s contributed to marketing in this area.”

Besides SkyWest’s success, Seafeldt said, Lee Bird Field saw all six of its round-trip casino flights to the Utah-Nevada border sell out in 2019.

Swift Air, now iAero Airways, flies 150-passenger Boeing 737-400s charters every other month to and from Wendover, Utah. Passengers cross the state line to gamble in West Wendover, Nevada.

Lee Bird Field has boasted a jet runway since 1980, a fact that enabled President Ronald Reagan’s August 1987 visit to North Platte when the full-sized Air Force One landed on it.

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