Friday, February 20, 2015

Steamboat airline program officials making progress on switch from unreliable turbo-prop service to and from Denver

Steamboat Springs — Yampa Valley Regional Airport will be closed April 14 until June 15 for a major runway construction project, and when the airport reopens, flights to Denver will be on small jets instead of the the 71-passenger turbo props currently flown by Republic Airlines. However details of the United Express carrier and aircraft that will fly the route in July and August are still being negotiated.

“The June flights are on Trans States (Airlines), but we’re still trying to finalize the details for the heart of the summer,” Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rob Perlman said Friday.

A search of flights at the United Airlines reservation site confirms that flights between YVRA and Denver June 18 will be on a 50-passenger Embraer RJ145 jet flown by Trans States. However, a similar search in mid-July still reflects service by Republic Airlines on the Q400.

Perlman told the members of the board of directors of the Local Marketing District, who advise Steamboat Springs City Council on the use of public tax dollars to support air service, that negotiations with United for the summer beyond June are ongoing.

Since the beginning of the year, Perlman and Ski Corp. Airline Program Director Janet Fischer have been seeking to switch away from Republic, which struggled to operate flights between Denver International Airport and YVRA during the critical Denver holidays. Fischer told the LMD in January that of 48 scheduled flight segments on United Express to and from Denver during the six-day period between Christmas and New Year's, 20 were canceled. And of the 28 that did fly, 10 experienced delays of more than two hours. Weather in Steamboat was not the issue.

Perlman pointed out Friday that the switch to 50-passenger jets represents a loss of 21 available seats, and while that may not be a detriment during many operations, the seats could be missed during peak travel periods like the Fourth of July. Still, he said, he thinks the highest priority now is restoring the confidence of the traveling public in the Denver/Steamboat route.

In addition to boosting the summer resort economy, flights between the largest city in the Rocky Mountain region and the Yampa Valley are important to the resort economy’s success over the winter.

United’s mainline has a long track record of serving YVRA well from Houston and Newark, as well as flying new mainline flights from San Francisco and Washington D.C., and from Los Angeles and Chicago with other United Express partners. But the Denver route has been problematic when operated by carriers flying turbo props. Delays and cancellations are typically attributed to mechanical issues, the lack of a crew and “air traffic control.”

Perlman also told the LMD Board that the current low fuel costs being incurred by all airlines will help the Fly Steamboat program perform well against the minimum revenue guarantees that are extended to the airlines to secure flights.

“Obviously, we’re past the halfway point of the ski season, and the flights have been performing well,” Perlman said. “What plays into our favor this year is the price of fuel. That is a part of our minimum revenue guarantees with all of the airlines. It will be a while before we understand the full extent of the benefit, but it will play in our favor in the form of the payouts we make in the spring and summer.”

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