Strong load factors reported from summer and fall
By Katherine Nettles
The Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport (GUC) is enjoying a strong run of both successful flights and an uptick in flight reservations this fall and early winter. A seemingly slow start this fall to flight bookings has reversed course and it now appears that January through March are setting up to bring in bigger numbers than last year, according to GUC airline consultants last week. And flights haven’t been diverted or cancelled in over three months.
Successful flights and loads
“I’ve got nothing but good news to report. Particularly as it relates to recent results,” said airline consultant Bill Tomcich of Airplanners, LLC in the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board meeting on Friday, November 3.
Tomcich reported that at the close of October there had been three months in a row without any cancelled or diverted flights.
“And that included some challenging conditions, including thunderstorms back in early September and even a snow event that forced nearly 100 cancellations from Denver International Airport [on October 28] and impacted other flights all across the state and the region.”
Tomcich said the recent track record is due to the airport’s new satellite base procedures that allow aircraft to come in after dark.
In terms of load factors, which reflect the percentage of seats sold, Tomcich said GUC ended up with over an 80% load factor for the entire summer for United Airlines, which runs flights from Denver and Houston. “And JSX was also incredibly pleased with their performance,” he said of the boutique air carrier out of Dallas.
During the previous RTA meeting in September, Tomcich had noted that October flight bookings were pacing downward, but he said last minute bookings actually “saved the day” for October, which ended up over 5% ahead of last year and finished with an 85.8% load factor. “Very, very impressive results,” summarized Tomcich.
November is also pacing slightly ahead of last year, with a 2.4% booking increase.
“That’s good news,” commented RTA board member Laura Puckett Daniels. “Off-season flights have always been a struggle.”
Tomcich said with an 85% load factor, things look favorable to get an increase in flights in future shoulder seasons.
Board member Jason McMillan said he had a great experience flying out of GUC in October, and better rates were available than previously. “I hope we can find a way to have that consistency and keep that price in October,” he said.
Strong outlook for winter
Other positive news for GUC is that as visitors have started booking their winter travel to the valley, numbers are up by double digits.
“Again, I’ve got nothing but good news,” said Tomcich of winter numbers so far. Several weeks ago, we were pacing essentially flat for winter, and now we’re starting to pull ahead.” He said every single future month is pacing ahead of last year, especially January, February and March which are up by double digit percentages (13%, 12% and 10% respectively). December is pacing up 7% from last year, he said.
Total winter bookings are up 10.5%, and Tomcich said American from DFW is pacing considerably ahead. “They’ve got a 16% increase in capacity and a 24% increase in advance bookings,” said Tomcich.
He noted that American Airlines is also doubling down on their capacity for the holidays from December 20 through January 7, with twice-daily service from DFW. The one market pacing slightly (5%) behind is United service from Houston, but Tomcich said that may be in part because that service starts back up on December 21, one week later this year than it did last year.
Tomcich’s final update was sharing an announcement that SkyWest, flying on behalf of United, made during an earnings call last week. “Skywest has a new contract with United to acquire and fly 19 brand new Embraer 175s [E175] to replace the CRJ700s coming out of their fleet in the next three years,” he said. The aircraft is designed for short to mid-range flights, and equipped to fly with satellite-based procedures that are now established at GUC.
“This is a significant development in terms of positioning SkyWest as a mountain flyer,” he said. “Gunnison is already ahead of the curve here…and it is going to give United a whole lot of flight flexibility moving forward.”
RTA executive director Scott Truex added that the RTA board did sign a minimum rate guarantee (MRG) contract with United for winter flights, and Tomcich said American is flying this winter at their own risk. “And based on the advanced bookings that they’re seeing, they should be very, very pleased.”