Airline program solidified
Flights secured for 2013-14, albeit with fewer total seats
Originally published 2013-05-23
Local transportation leaders have opted for consistency in their approach to this coming winter season’s airline program.
In a special meeting Monday, Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board members approved a plan for direct service this coming winter from Houston via United Airlines. That means that next winter’s airline program locally will by similar to 2012-13 — but with fewer inbound seats.
In recent years, the RTA and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) have partnered in paying United and American revenue “guarantees” — to cover losses for flying into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport. United does not charge for more frequent flights from Denver.
The RTA board was presented Monday with two different options for flights from Houston. One would have entailed use of a 66-seat Regional Jet for a flight schedule similar to this past winter, with daily service around the holidays, Saturdays in late February and during all of March — at a total possible cost of about $249,000. The other option — which RTA leaders approved unanimously — would utilize a larger, 128-passenger Airbus A319 at a maximum cost of about $538,000. It would entail four more flights during the holiday season than this past winter.
RTA officials previously agreed to bring $550,000 to the table for next winter’s guarantees.
Board member and County Commissioner Paula Swenson — who, after about an hour-and-a-half of discussion, motioned to approve the latter of the plans — cited numerous reasons for taking the path that was chosen when contacted by the Times Tuesday.
She indicated a smaller aircraft from Houston could have presented problems during winter months — and likely would have resulted in higher fares.
“We really don’t want to get an aircraft that has issues landing here in the winter,” she said.
RTA Executive Director Scott Truex said following Monday’s meeting that he and airline consultant Kent Myers are trying to negotiate a slightly lower total cost for the Houston guarantee.
There was discussion about a year-round, overnight flight. While a price has not been supplied by United, Myers indicated that it would likely be more than $500,000. Ultimately, RTA leaders opted to forgo waiting for a price quote for those flights.
Swenson noted that United has provided overnight flights from Denver during the spring, summer and winter.
“We’re hoping that will continue and we can get it in the fall as well (without having to pay for the flight),” she said.
CBMR leaders indicated this week that next winter’s program with American for daily service from Dallas had been verbally agreed upon, though the cost of that plan has not been made public.
However, they reported two weeks ago that the program would utilize a lower-capacity aircraft than in the past — resulting in about 6,000 fewer inbound seats from Dallas next winter.
In total, inbound seats from Dallas, Houston and Denver for 2013-14 are expected to number about 30,700 — compared to 33,600 this past winter.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)