GUC airport passenger numbers, reliability up

Gaining confidence to request more service 

By Katherine Nettles

The Gunnison-Crested Butte (GUC) airport is enjoying a seven-month run of improved flight reliability, and it appears that trend is creating more passenger demand. But as anyone flying in and out of GUC knows, even when flights are “completed,” the sometimes long delays involved can cause major hassles. The Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) is setting out to study what causes those delays and how GUC reliability compares with other mountain towns. 

During an RTA air service update to the RTA board this month, airline consultant Bill Tomcich, managing partner at Airplanners LLC, spoke highly of GUC’s recent reliability factor. He said the lower landing minimums that the SkyWest flights are able to use because of satellite-based navigation are working well, and to land a plane they require less than a mile of visibility where previously they needed up to three miles of visibility in daylight conditions to land. 

In addition to seven months of improved flight completions, Tomcich reported a new record. “December was the first 100% completion month of December that I could find for the Gunnison airport going back 20 years,” he said. 

GUC also ended up with 17% more passengers for the month of December than the previous two years. December passenger counts also exceeded other strong years, such as 2016 and 2017. “It was the strongest December I could find in terms of total passenger numbers, just over 11,000, since 2005,” said Tomcich. “The fact that it’s now a more reliable airport, I think, is contributing to the really successful advance bookings that we’re seeing.”   

The advance bookings success looks to be continuing through the rest of ski season. There are double digit increases for January through March reservations, with January pacing at 19% ahead, February pacing 11% ahead and March pacing 16% ahead of last year, according to Tomcich.

Spring schedules and potential for more flights? 

Looking toward spring, United has extended its second daily Denver flight until April 8 this year, where they ended it on the last Sunday of March in 2023. 

“So that’s going to give us some extra capacity into April,” said Tomcich. “We’re going to be down to one flight a day for about six weeks through late April and early May, and then they will resume their summer schedules.”

Those summer schedules include two daily flights from Denver beginning on May 23, and the additional weekend service from Houston will start on May 24. RTA executive director Scott Truex noted the summer schedule is starting 10 days earlier than last year. 

Tomcich said the ongoing news of reliability and passenger numbers is a powerful story to share with the airlines in requesting additional service.

 “For the first time in the years I’ve been working with this group, I feel very confident in our ability to request for some more service based on the current levels of success that we’re now seeing,” he said.

That sentiment was tempered slightly as RTA board member Laura Puckett Daniels pointed out that improved flight completion did not mean lack of delays. Puckett Daniels said while she too was happy with the improved reliability, she also wanted to acknowledge that there are a lot of travel disruptions which affect people’s lives. “If you are trying to get back to go to work or get your kids back to school and you don’t get in for another 24 hours, that is a disruption,” she said. She asked if Tomcich was tracking those delays and disruptions, and what causes them. “That’s the kind of reporting I’d like to see at the end of the year,” she said, including charts that show all the year’s on-time arrivals, one to two-hour delays and two-hour or longer delays as well as if they are mechanical or caused by other factors like weather.

“I understand some of these things are outside our control, so I’m not blaming anyone or mad about it,” continued Puckett Daniels. “I just would like to be able to track those numbers as well. 100% completion is a fantastic number, but we’re counting completions as…”

“A 30-hour delay,” finished Tomcich.

“Yeah. So, I feel like we need to acknowledge that that is a disruption to people’s lives,” responded Puckett Daniels.

Tomcich said he could provide that data, although not exactly on the level of detail that she was asking for. He said that RTA board president Janet Farmer had also asked that same question earlier in the week at an air command meeting, and Tomcich said he has two concurrent reports he can pull from the air tracking database. “One is for completion, and one is for on-time performance (OTP).” 

He said a delay is considered more than 15 minutes and more extreme delays can be several hours or even beyond 24 hours.

“Let’s keep fine-tuning,” suggested Puckett Daniels of the opportunity to study data and troubleshoot.

Truex said the data could be interesting. “But it is important to remember however, that none of this is in our control.”

GUC airport manager Rick Lamport suggested that they also look at outbound flights, which is a better reflection of Gunnison’s ability to get flights out.

“That’s an excellent idea, and we are actually right up there,” said Tomcich of GUC’s outbound reliability.

Tomcich said by late March he expects to have full OTP and reliability data through the end of the 2023 calendar year. “Right now, I have it through the end of October for all the other mountain airports,” he said. “So, we’ll be able to make apples to apples comparisons, but I can guarantee you that in term of both percentage on time and percentage completed [flights], Gunnison is now right up there with Hayden, Jackson Hole and all the other mountain airports. Whereas prior to this year, Gunnison was in the dubious distinction with Aspen and a couple of others at the bottom of the list.” 

“I think a comparison would be super enlightening,” commented Puckett Daniels.

Check Also

Brief: Court

By Katherine Nettles Wickenhauser sentenced to four years in community corrections facility Gunnison Valley resident …