United pulls out of GUC for spring 2016 flights

Airport will be quiet 

by Mark Reaman

Year-round daily commercial air service into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) will halt this spring. Local officials received word from United Airlines that the company is making an economic decision and will not fly the Denver to Gunnison route from April 4 until June 8.

The Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board of directors will discuss the development at its meeting on Friday, November 13.

“This notification highlights the challenges that we face as the smallest population in the country to have its own airport with regular commercial service,” wrote RTA executive director Scott Truex in a letter to the community (see page 5).

Last spring, a 50-seat aircraft flew daily between Gunnison and Denver. This schedule change equates to the loss of 3,250 spring seats coming into and out of the airport.

RTA airline consultant Kent Myers said that finding out about the decision now limits what can be done to rectify the situation. “Our options are limited and most alternatives are either expensive or offer very limited service,” he explained.

Myers said local business travelers would likely be the most impacted with the United decision. He expected these travelers would drive to either Montrose or Denver for flights.

“The reality is that GUC is the smallest market that United serves in their system,” said Myers. “If it were not for the summer and winter tourists coming in on the flights, air service would be decreased even more and probably to smaller aircraft.”

The last time regular flights were not coming into GUC was when runway improvements were being made at the airport. That is scheduled to happen again in the spring of 2017.

In the past, the RTA had briefly touched on pivoting away from the Denver connection service and focusing on regular flights to either Houston or Dallas. “I believe non-stop service to Dallas or Houston could work nine or ten months of the year,” said Myers. “But the spring period is a real challenge with the limited number of industries in the region. It’s just the reality of the situation the market is dealing with.”

The RTA meeting is scheduled for Friday at 8 a.m. in the Crested Butte Town Council chambers.

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