Airline board recommends boosting Houston summer flight to daily schedule | CraigDailyPress.com

Airline board recommends boosting Houston summer flight to daily schedule

Tom Ross

— Steamboat Springs' Local Marketing District board voted Friday to recommend that Steamboat Springs City Council boost the summer 2015 flight from Houston to daily service, partly as a hedge against the increasingly unreliable air service to Denver provided by Republic Airlines as United Express.

The vote came shortly after LMD board members heard disappointing details of the performance of United Express flights between Denver and Yampa Valley Regional Airport during the critical December 2014 holiday week.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Airline Program Director Janet Fischer told LMD members 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.

"The service between Denver and Hayden this winter operated by Republic (Airlines as United Express) on the Q400 (turboprop) is not meeting our expectations on reliability," Fischer said. "And with that performance in mind, (ski area Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing) Rob (Perlman) and I have been in communication with United to discuss reliability issues. That's weighed heavily on our thoughts about summer for Denver/Hayden."

County Manager Tom Sullivan told the LMD that he visited YVRA several times during the busy days at the airport between Christmas and New Year’s and on one occasion came across 50 pieces of unclaimed luggage lined up on the terminal floor.

The airport was taking "tens if not hundreds of calls from passengers trying to find out where their bags were three days after they arrived," Sullivan said.

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Sullivan cited a Jan. 6 Denver Post article in suggesting United’s recent decision at Denver International Airport where SkyWest was replaced as below-wing luggage handler by another company may have contributed to the issues.

Fisher said Steamboat has had a long and beneficial partnership with United Airlines, but it's specifically the performance of Republic on the Denver route this winter that has led her and Perlman to approach airline officials about the possibilities of securing jet service operated by other United Express partners to fly between YVRA and Steamboat. Candidates include SkyWest, ExpressJet and Trans State.

Republic has been flying the route between the Yampa Valley and Denver for about 28 months, and Perlman indicated he is weary of the poor on-time performance.

"We've had a lot of discussions and it's time for change instead of continuing the same discussions," he said. "It leads to additional lack of performance due to reliability and we go through these self-fulfilling prophecies."

The Local Marketing District is a committee comprising primarily business people with long tenures in the local resort industry. They make recommendations to City Council regarding air service and budgeting. The flights are secured with millions of dollars in local funds, including money from Ski Corp., a dedicated city lodging tax and a 0.25 percent general sales tax. The monies are used to provide the minimum revenue guarantees for the airlines that secure the flights.

However, revenue guarantees are not currently used to secure the Denver flights.

Fischer told the LMD board members that during an executive session Friday to discuss privileged airline contract details, she would brief them on the costs of boosting last summer's Houston service, also on United, from four roundtrips weekly to either five days per week or daily. The dates of this year's proposed schedule are June 25 through Aug. 31, plus two additional roundtrips to support Labor Day tourism.

Last summer's jet service from Hayden was reliable and well-used; from June 26 to July 22, the first 30 legs of that flight attracted 1,123 passengers.

The board emerged from executive to session to unanimously approve the daily flight schedule. Board President Chuck Porter said the decision to go to daily flights was based on a desire to make the service more convenient for travelers, allowing them to choose their own travel dates, and to provide them with an alternative to the Denver route.

The summer routes will be on the same Embraer RJ145 50-passenger jet that flew here last summer.

LMD Board member Rod Hanna predicted the daily flights would be easier to promote to the traveling public.

"I think there's a huge advantage to being daily," Hanna said. "It's a much better marketing opportunity and puts a positive message out there — we have daily flights from Houston."

The amount of minimum revenue guarantees needed to secure the flight are withheld at the airline's insistence in their contract language.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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