United Express Jets
Andy Wirth with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. discusses the addition of jets to the United Express fleet.
Steamboat Springs Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has struck what many call a long-overdue deal with United Airlines.
Starting April 7, jets will be the sole carriers of Yampa Valley Regional Airport passengers flying United Express.
Ski Corp. made the announcement Wednesday. On the schedule for the spring, summer and fall are two or three daily, roundtrip flights between YVRA in Hayden and Denver International Airport. The United Express flights will be operated by SkyWest Airlines and will result in a 33 percent increase in available seats during the non-winter months. The jet service will accompany the traditional winter-season YVRA flights. The planes will seat more people than the turbo-prop planes that have been used by United Express in recent years.
"This is really a significant effort toward improving Steamboat's accessibility," said Andy Wirth, Ski Corp.'s executive vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer for Intrawest. "Everybody should take a moment to celebrate this."
Ski Corp. negotiated the agreement, which won the support of the Local Marketing District. The voter-approved LMD was formed in 2005 to collect a 2 percent lodging tax in Steamboat Springs. The revenues are used to support commercial air service in the Yampa Valley.
Steve Dawes serves as the chairman of the LMD. He said the boost in flights is worth the additional undisclosed amount of money used to secure the enhanced service.
"As we look at the community, we see more demands from the local travelers as well as the visitors (who are) looking for quality of service, meaning jet service (compared to) prop service," Dawes said.
He said it was important to note that visitor lodging tax money is being used to enhance the air service, which will be a benefit to local residents.
"It's the visitors who pay for it," Dawes said.
Wirth echoed the LMD's reasons for supporting the service.
"Make no mistake, this service will benefit everyone in the Yampa Valley and will help support our diverse economy," Wirth said.
'We need better'
Many say the upgraded service is long overdue.
Proponents of quality commercial air service to Steamboat have had some turbulent times in recent years with the United Express service to DIA.
That turbulence came to a head in March 2006, when a delegation of Yampa Valley officials traveled to Chicago to discuss service issues on the route between YVRA and DIA. Concerns included on-time performance and the number of flights canceled by the service, operated by Mesa Airlines as a United Express carrier.
"We said to United : we need better, this valley deserves better. And it took us awhile, but they responded accordingly," Wirth said.
Wirth said Wednesday that replacing the United turbo-prop planes with jets was part of a multi-year effort to improve the quality of year-round air service.
SkyWest already operates a portion of United Express flights to and from YVRA, as does Mesa. SkyWest is also the operator for the Delta Airlines flights to and from Salt Lake City. In January and February, SkyWest-operated planes carried nearly 20 percent of the people who departed YVRA.
Wirth said SkyWest has made substantial improvements to the flight experience, including a significant increase to its ramp staff, baggage control center employees and dedicated customer service team working the Steamboat flights.
"We said we will not yield until we improve the quantity and quality of service into this valley on a year-round basis," Wirth said. "Today's announcement is evidence of that effort."
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