Gunnison Airport on a roll for winter season flights

Reliability up, numbers up and even a bar on the horizon

By Mark Reaman

The Gunnison-Crested Butte airport (GUC) received a lot of love at the December 8 board meeting of the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA). Not only has the reliability of the flights shot up from a few years ago, with just one instance out of the last 100 where a plane could not land, but winter passengers are trending ahead of similar ski resort airports and if all goes well, a new restaurant and bar should be open for business in the terminal for the holidays.

“In terms of reliability, it doesn’t get any better than what we’ve seen since the end of summer and through the fall,” noted RTA air consultant Bill Tomcich. “That increase in reliability is resulting in more locals using Gunnison to fly out. The load factors are very good.”

Airport manager Rick Lamport said the one time a plane had to return to Denver instead of landing at GUC was when the overnight flight was delayed until the morning and the runway had an ice glaze that particular morning. 

Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP) executive director John Norton touted the reliability figures and urged the board to spread the word. “That 99 out of 100 landings tells the story of a new day for reliability at GUC,” he said. “That is huge compared to what the situation used to be, and we need to let everyone know of the improvement.”

Norton said TAPP is in the thick of the winter marketing effort and it appears to be paying off. He said that talking to officials at other ski resorts, GUC is doing far better when compared to the same time last year. He said several mountain airports are trending down in terms of passenger count from December 2022, but GUC is actually up with airline tickets purchased compared to a year ago.

 “We’re happy with the results that we are seeing with the numbers throughout the season at this point,” Norton said. “Statewide, it seems like our strong performance at the airport is an outlier versus our sister airports in the state.”

Tomcich agreed with that assessment and said compared to not just Colorado but the entire Rocky Mountain west, GUC was a standout. “We are up more than 10% compared to this time last year,” he said. “The advanced bookings for the ski season are excellent, especially compared to our peers. While we have a capacity increase of about 6% more jet seats coming in over the winter, we are up 11.4%. The numbers are very, very strong.”

Tomcich said the American flight out of Dallas is up 26% and the United Denver flights are 7%. He said that while boutique air carrier JSX isn’t releasing specific numbers, they have told him they are very pleased with how GUC is performing and they plan on flying five days a week into Gunnison from Dallas through the ski season. He said the bulk of the winter flights start coming in mid-December and the airlines plan to increase the number of flights over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. He said United is also providing two flights a day from Denver through April 8 and has indicated the increase for summer service will start again May 22.

Lamport told the board that Jermaine’s restaurant in Gunnison plans to operate a bar and restaurant at the airport. It will be called Bar-78 and it is currently waiting on a liquor license. The bar will be available to people who have gone through security. Lamport also told the board that daily parking rates are now $8 per day and monthly parking rates are $80 per month, which he said was still less than airports like Grand Junction and Montrose.

All in all, the reports on the airport were extremely positive. “I have nothing but good news to report,” concluded Tomcich.

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