More Dallas, less Houston, no Chicago
by Mark Reaman
Changes in winter air service to the Gunnison Crested Butte Regional Airport are in the works for next ski season.
The Gunnison Valley Transportation Authority (RTA) board of directors agreed on Friday, March 10 to no longer subsidize United Airlines MRGs (minimum revenue guarantees) for flights out of Chicago into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport. The RTA board wants to add some flights out of Dallas on American Airlines while cutting back on the number of United Airlines/Houston flights. The board directed the staff to pursue flights that serve the West Coast either through Alaska Airlines (which could fly several times a week from Los Angeles and San Francisco) or with American Airlines through its Phoenix hub.
The board essentially wanted to increase overall air seats coming into the valley next winter while “decreasing the risk” of financial subsidies. The board does not want to sign contracts that have more than a cumulative $1 million in MRGs for the 2017/18 ski season.
“The goal is to provide incrementally more seats into the airport while reducing risk,” summarized RTA executive director Scott Truex after a 90-minute executive session. “We will have more capacity by looking at increasing service to Dallas while cutting back a little in Houston. We will pursue a West Coast hub to service the airport but we don’t think we can afford to keep guaranteeing Chicago.”
While the board provided the general direction to the staff of what it would like to see in terms of meeting the general goals, the specifics of how to reach that direction will be worked out between the RTA and the airlines.
Truex said the RTA direction and funding parameters would be shared with the Air Command, the group that deals directly with the airlines and includes representatives from the RTA, the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association, the Gunnison Airport, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and two non-voting representatives from the public at large and Western State Colorado University. The Air Command had come up with a similar winter air proposal and passed it along to the RTA but final decisions and funding must go through the RTA.
“Things always change with the airlines,” noted RTA board member Jonathan Houck. “So let’s pursue this direction, but if there are any significant changes before our next meeting in May, let’s reconvene earlier.”
As of the end of February, about 650 fewer total airlines seats had been sold in and out of the local airport compared to last ski season. RTA air consultant Kent Myers said the American flights out of Dallas have been strong and are ahead of last year but the other markets have been relatively soft. Chicago has seen more seats sold this year compared to last year but that is partly because there are 21 more flights this year than last.
TA director John Norton said the Alaska Airlines flight from Los Angeles has seen some growth. He reported that Alaska Air representatives told local representatives at a meeting in town recently, “We are the only ski market to see growth with Alaska.” Norton said the TA had put a focus on marketing Los Angeles this year to help get people to use that flight. He did say one ramification of that Los Angeles marketing focus was a late-season decline in Dallas reservations compared to late season last year since the TA did not put money into that market.
The RTA is scheduled to meet next in May and will review any comments about the proposed changes to the winter air service.
As for summer air service, the flights from Houston are loaded in the system and will run daily from June 30 through August 14. The RTA has agreed to guarantee about $300,000 for the summer flight but given its success last summer, Truex said he expected the amount the RTA would pay to be much less.