Even spring schedule expanding
[ by Mark Reaman ]
Building on what by most any measure was a successful winter air program during a pandemic, the Gunnison-Crested Butte airport will see expanded air service starting this spring. United Airlines will be providing two flights a day into GUC out of Denver even after the ski area closes. Meanwhile direct flights from Houston to GUC will start in June and run through September 6.
Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) air consultants Kent Myers and Bill Tomcich reported to the board that with two 50-seat jets flying from Denver to GUC and a 76 seat jet coming in and out of Houston, there will be 176 seats flying in daily to GUC during the heart of summer, “and that number is the right fit for the summer coming into Gunnison,” said Myers. “I’m pretty bullish about this. We are running a little risk with the Houston flight coming in through Labor Day but I think it will be busy. With what we saw last summer with all the pandemic stuff going on, I have good positive feelings about what is going to happen next summer. I think Colorado in general and resort communities in the west in particular will see lots of demand for leisure travel.”
Tourism and Prosperity Partnership executive director John Norton said having two flights a day servicing GUC in the spring is a big move and one that hasn’t happened in a long time. “Having two flights a day year-round out of Denver changes the complexion of the valley when people are considering moving here or needing to travel out of here,” he said. “If there’s only one flight and there’s an issue, it is a major problem to wait 24 hours for the next one instead of three or four hours.”
Myers agreed that adding the extra daily flight would be a boost to the region. “We need to keep people aware and make those two daily flights front and center.”
As for this past ski season, Myers said the air program performed really well “considering all the moving parts. Houston and Dallas both had good load factors.”
“While load factors this winter were down from previous years, Gunnison was still higher than any other mountain destination that we track,” added Tomcich. “GUC’s 68 percent load factor in February was really extraordinary. And in terms of on-time reliability, Gunnison also leads the pack. The Denver blizzard had an impact on all mountain destination airports but overall this winter, Gunnison was really good with very few cancelled flights.”
Tomcich said United was bolstering its hub in both Denver and Houston and Gunnison would likely see some benefit as a result. Myers mentioned that the Southwest Airline flights into Montrose also drew from Gunnison Valley but was not considered to be a major leakage point for passengers.
Norton said while winter is coming to a screeching halt he was pleased with the number of late March bookings. “Now we are ready to market the Houston summer flight,” he said and added TAPP was working on a carbon buy-back program to help entice people who could offset their flight impacts.
Meanwhile the RTA has submitted an application for a grant that will help fund summer air service to Gunnison from Dallas. Myers and Tomcich are confident the RTA will get the grant and the service could start in 2022.
And a reminder that while major renovations are beginning at the local airport terminal, the airport will be open for the summer. The goal is to be mostly finished with the project by next ski season but summer is open for business.