Ski season air travel to Gunnison remains solid

TAPP ready to make value argument with Dallas bikers for summer JSX flights

By Mark Reaman

The winter airline traffic into the Gunnison-Crested Butte airport (GUC) has been robust this ski season and expectations are that it will continue. The January passenger numbers totaled 12,480, which according to Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) air consultant Bill Tomcich of Airplanners, LLC, is the best January since 2009. That comes on top of year-end 2022 numbers he described as “the strongest passenger numbers at the Gunnison Airport since early in this century.”

Tomcich credited the addition of JSX, a boutique hop-on jet service flying direct to GUC from Dallas and now Austin, as helping the numbers. “With the addition of JSX we exceeded last year’s January numbers,” he told the RTA board at the February 17 meeting. “If United and American were still the only airlines coming in, we probably would have seen a decline of about 2% but with JSX in the mix it was a good January. Things are looking good for the rest of the winter season as well.”

Tomcich indicated that the United flight out of Houston has been pretty good and made a profit in December while the American flight out of Dallas had soft bookings in mid-December that hurt their revenues. He said next winter American will likely delay the implementation of daily holiday flights until shortly before Christmas.

As for the remainder of the winter, he said March is looking good and while the JSX service out of Austin started off slow it seems to be picking up.

John Norton of the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP) told the board that air bookings for the ski season are being made later than they normally have in the past. “It seems people are waiting to book about a week later each year,” he said. “So, we’re still active in the national marketing to sell airline seats and we are being successful. We do expect to see a slowdown to happen soon.”

Spring, summer air update

Tomcich said there will definitely be a slowdown in the spring air service as there will be just one midday flight a day coming in from Denver. Last spring he said there were two flights in April and May.

“United planning wants to have at least two flights a day coming into Gunnison year-round, but they are waiting for the market to mature a little bit,” he said. “One thing that might help it mature is that starting June 2 there will be a substantial upgrade in aircraft coming into Gunnison.

Tomcich said JSX has already loaded four flights a week from Dallas to Gunnison from June 2 through September 4 that can be booked by customers. He said United has not yet determined what sort of summer service will fly between Houston and GUC this summer. American will not be flying summer service from Dallas but is looking at possible 2024 summer service.

“We are really happy that JSX has announced they are taking bookings from Dallas to GUC this summer,” added Norton. “That’s a big deal. It really helps with American not having summer service so JSX coming in is good news.”

Norton said Denver is still considered the most important hub servicing GUC so the Texas summer service is at about the perfect level. “With JSX we’ll hit the ‘bikes fly free’ angle pretty hard in Dallas,” he said. “That is a huge advantage in terms of cost to bikers. To rent a bike is probably about $100 a day and to travel with a bike on United is probably an additional $100 and the bike has to be disassembled and in a box. With JSX I think they let you wheel it up on the plane. When you consider that cost, people start to think of the value with the cost of a JSX ticket.”

Tomcich noted that because the JSX jets are meant for 50 passengers but limit them to 30 seats there is a lot more room on the aircraft.

Norton said that while the direct JSX service to GUC this winter has so far been soft, if they decide to fly the route in the summer, TAPP will be there to help market the route.

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