Air Command looks at adding flights, managing airline contracts
By Katherine Nettles
During the Gunnison Valley Transportation Authority board meeting on November 2, RTA air travel consultant Kent Myers updated the board members on several ongoing concerns with flights for this winter and forward-thinking solutions for next summer and beyond.
Myers reported that newly appointed CBMR general manager Tim Baker attended an air command meeting in late October, on behalf of the resort. “We talked about trips to Dallas and Chicago,” Myers said, and the committee began summer air travel negotiations this month with airlines.
Looking back at this past summer, Myers said the season had overall done really well, considering the mixed availability of aircraft. “It’s a learning process. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a sweet spot,” said Myers. As for the smaller aircraft, he said the larger aircrafts with additional amenities such as first class made money (or lost very little) with a passenger load of only 77 percent, while a smaller plane without first class lost a dramatic amount of money with an 82 percent load factor.
“Maybe we should talk to American, and instead of an Airbus with 128 seats once per day, get an Embrier 175 or 195 [these planes have 76 to 90 seats per plane] twice a day. This would represent…telling people you can come when you want to come, not just once per day. When you run double service to a hub like that, it almost is one plus one equals three,” said Myers.
RTA executive director Scott Truex agreed this was a great idea. He said his only concern was that an airbus is very reliable in various types of weather conditions, while regional jets might not have the same characteristics in variable weather. He recalled that the RTA gained a lot of experience in 2010 with flights coming in under inclement weather. “It is an interesting concept, if it gets us where we need to be,” Truex said.
The board then discussed the previous few months’ passenger loads, with September having run a 94 percent load factor and October having come in within the low 70s.
The benefit of having two flights coming in each day during the later part of the summer season was widely agreed upon, if it could be negotiated. Flights already come in twice daily through mid-August.
“Twice a day from June through September…I would love to,” said Truex.
Myers reported that the United contract for this winter is essentially finalized, and the contract for American Airlines is signed. Still to address with American, says Myers, is “Three weeks after signing a contract, [American] changed the schedule by 90 minutes and we misconnect in several different cities…we would have not signed the contract if we had known it would have been that way.”
Myers said he planned to relay the air command’s frustration with the airline’s choice to change the schedules in upcoming meetings with American, and to discuss with them how to improve the schedule in the future. He acknowledged that “We know they do change their schedule; they have a right to do it,” but American did not communicate the decision directly to the local air command. The committee found out indirectly afterward.
County commissioner and RTA board chair John Messner expressed dissatisfaction with the business contract in which they have to find out about a schedule change outside of business communications.
“Language is an issue in the contract, I agree with you, John. It’s a big company syndrome. We lose a lot of faith there,” said Myers.
“It affects our pocketbook from not having that connectivity, but we have to consider our [minimum revenue guarantees] standpoint. I would argue that we have the leverage we have because we are putting hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table—specifically for this contract,” said Messner.
CBMR spokesperson Erica Mueller attended as a member of the public and chimed in to the conversation as well. “I’m wondering if we can change the MRG cap since you have made this contract in good faith,” she said.
“If we have two flights a day that would solve a lot of this,” said Myers.