Winter air numbers hanging in for the ski season

Expanding summer service to Dallas a possibility

[ by Mark Reaman ]

As would be expected with the coronavirus situation, the winter air service into the Gunnison-Crested Butte (GUC) airport is not as robust as it was a year ago but overall it appears to be doing as well or better than most comparable airports. And efforts continue to improve and expand both the service and the terminal.

“This last week we had good news with the booking report,” said RTA airline consultant Kent Myers. “We had the best week in terms of reservation increases week over week. There were a little over 1,800 new reservations. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that we are still pacing behind last year, which is to be expected. We are off by about 11,000 seats compared to last season but compared to other similar communities, GUC is doing quite well.”

Myers said generally, January load factors on incoming flights were at about 60 percent, which is pretty good “given the environment everyone is dealing with. The health situation in Gunnison County helps since it looks pretty good compared to other places.”

Myers’ partner Bill Tomcich agreed that the GUC airport was trending ahead of other similar resort airports. He said one reason could be that since airlines are not currently charging change fees on tickets, people can look at various resorts and decide where to go at the last minute. Given the relative openness of Gunnison County under COVID health orders, he said it appeared people are deciding to vacation here at the last minute.

Pam Cook of Alpine Express said based on bus passenger numbers, it is evident Gunnison is doing well compared to Montrose so far this winter season. Montrose is the primary destination for vacationers heading to Telluride and she said that perhaps because Crested Butte has indoor dining for example, while Telluride does not, people are choosing to go to Crested Butte. “The Gunnison airport numbers for the shuttle service are very similar to the numbers for the shuttle service in Montrose which has not been the case in the past,” she reported.

Generally, RTA board member and Gunnison county commissioner Roland Mason said anything that can be done to stop the “leakage” of passengers to Montrose or Denver would be a positive thing. He also noted that airfares into GUC appear to be pretty low at the moment.

Expanding summer service to Dallas a possibility
The RTA is pursuing a federal Department of Transportation grant targeted for new service to small airports to expand summer service between Dallas and GUC. RTA executive director Scott Truex reported that the RTA air advisory committee known as the Air Command, recommended going after that option with the small community air service development program. Other ideas included trying to start up new service directly from Austin, Texas in the winter through a low-cost carrier.

“The summer Dallas service is in perfect strategic alliance with American Airlines and is something they would like to do so they are eager to support this,” Tomcich said. “It is a logical progression of the relationship between American Airlines and Gunnison.

The grant application is being developed by Myers and Tomcich and if the grant is awarded, the new service would begin in the summer of 2022.

Meanwhile, Myers said United Airlines is planning on keeping two flights a day coming into GUC from Denver through April. He said they are keeping an eye on numbers to potentially increase capacity between Gunnison and Denver.

Airport improvements update
Airport manager Rick Lamport said airline reliability has been excellent so far this ski season. There was one weather day that delayed a flight to Dallas by one day. He said having an airline mechanic at the airport was helpful as he has addressed nine mechanical incidents that would have caused more major issues. Lamport said the budget for the major terminal makeover is being polished and could be finished by the end of January.

He said United Airlines is looking at using more office space in the new terminal. He also said the airport could receive more federal grant funds through the latest CARES stimulus package recently approved by Congress. He said an official announcement could come soon.

Meanwhile Tomcich said one of the new flights from Denver that comes into GUC will remain overnight beginning next week. That would allow for an early departure the following morning that makes it easier for people to catch connecting flights, especially those heading east. The overnight flight scenario is one the RTA has pursued every winter season.

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