2 jet flights return to Denver/Steamboat routes for ski season | SteamboatToday.com

2 jet flights return to Denver/Steamboat routes for ski season

A row of planes line the apron at Steamboat Springs Airport

— Members of the Yampa Valley Airport authority board learned Thursday night that two jet flights from Denver to Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden have been returned to the daily United Express schedule for ski season. And the board also gained some new insights into factors relating to some of the unreliability of the Denver flights on turboprops operated by Republic Airlines.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Diamond, who also sits on the authority board, said he had a chance to meet informally in Steamboat this summer with a United executive who oversees United's hub in Denver and was vacationing here.

"He came from Continental (Airlines) in the merger, and when he got to Denver, he learned to his surprise that SkyWest's operations center is totally separate from United's in Denver,” Diamond said. “They don't even talk."

SkyWest will operate the two 66-passenger CR7 jet flights that will serve the Hayden airport this winter in addition to two Republic Airlines’ 74-passenger Q-400 turboprops. But it is SkyWest, which has a reputation for reliability on its own flights here, that oversees United Express flights operated by seven carriers out of Denver International Airport, according to Ski Corp. Airline Program Director Janet Fischer.

"SkyWest is the umbrella and does all the ground handing and all of the operations," she said.

Republic got off to a bumpy start in the Steamboat market early last ski season as it hustled to train crews for the ramped up responsibility it had been given by United to fly the turboprops into the mountain destinations. Flights were delayed and canceled, sometimes for a lack of crews. And Fischer said Thursday night that Republic still is "churning through staff" as larger airlines hire away pilots.

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"A lot of the issues with the Q400 is they can't hire, train and retain crews," she said. "So many of our delays say, 'awaiting crew.'"

Hillary Fletcher, of Jviation, a company that consults on the airport with Routt County, said she's aware that the small regional airlines also are being hit hard by a new FAA requirement that bumped the minimum number of flight hours required for airline pilots from 1,000 to 1,500 on Aug. 1.

"The small regionals are really feeling the pinch on that," she said.

Diamond said the United executive he talked with supervises the mountain airports for his company and is aware of the issues at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

"He's as senior a guy as we're going to get to talk to, and he's well aware of our issues," Diamond said. "It's a legacy issue left over from the merger. It is a key strategy to try to resolve this, and they are trying to put a rapid response protocol in place for the Q400 as it comes through the hub."

United Express has been serving the Yampa Valley this summer with one fewer daily flight than it did in 2012, which translates to three daily flights in July and August instead of four. Airport Manager Dave Ruppel reported that for June (when there were two daily flights) and July the number of departing passengers was down a combined 3,100.

Republic canceled five flights in July, according to the airport, not including some flights that were lost when a private aircraft blew a tire on a takeoff approach and blocked the runway for hours.

Fischer said one of the ski season flights on SkyWest will leave Denver at 7:45 p.m. allowing the jet to serve as the sweep flight, picking up any luggage and passengers who missed flights earlier in the day. That aircraft also will remain on the ground overnight and operate the first flight to Denver at 6:20 a.m.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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