Steamboat Springs A spokesman for United Airlines said this week his company intends to serve the Yampa Valley again beginning Dec. 14 and continue next summer and beyond.
United flies between Denver International Airport and Yampa Valley Regional Airport utilizing its commuter airline partner, Air Wisconsin, flying as United Express.
"We'll be here year 'round and we want people to fly our airline," United Account Executive Rick McKenna said. "We're here indefinitely."
United Express hasn't been here for the past six months it departed Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden at the end of last ski season, leaving local air service to its code sharing partner, Great Lakes Aviation.
Code sharing implies the two airlines coordinate schedules and transfer baggage, but don't work as closely together as United does with United Express carriers.
Great Lakes struggled last summer with the weight restrictions imposed on its Embraer Brasilia aircraft flying into YVRA's high-elevation runway. Passengers complained of frequent canceled flights. Ironically, a month before it is scheduled to end its service to YVRA, Great Lakes is achieving more reliable service records at the airport 25 miles west of Steamboat springs.
"Last month their completion rate was 99 percent and 70 percent of their flights were on time," Jim Halgren said. He serves as "city manager" for United Express at YVRA.
Great Lakes will pull out when Air Wisconsin/United Express resumes flights Dec. 14.
The big news this winter, in McKenna's mind, is that United Express will fly an all-jet fleet into Hayden.
Instead of flying a mix of Dornier turboprops and British Aerospace jets here as it did last winter, United Express will fly the 86-passenger jet exclusively. In addition, United will fly here once daily from Denver with a 737 scheduled to arrive at 8:30 p.m. and overnight in Hayden before departing at 9:30 a.m. the next morning.
"That jet will be ideally timed to connect with banks of flights from both coasts (in Denver)," McKenna said.
The conversion to an all-jet commuter schedule came about as United Airlines adjusted its schedules and service in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The change means a reduction in the frequency of flights between YVRA and Denver International, however it results in a net increase in inbound seats by using larger aircraft.
Before Sept. 11, with turboprops still on the schedule, YVRA was to have been served by seven flights daily, including the 737. Now, it will see five Denver daily flights.
The schedule changes mean the daily number of inbound seats from Denver will increase from 426 on seven daily roundtrips to 468 seats on five daily roundtrips, a net increase of 42 inbound seats.
That gain in seats translates into 294 seats a week. Based on a 16-week winter airline season, that's an increase of 4,704 inbound seats from Denver.
Last winter, YVRA saw 10 daily flights from Denver, but had fewer inbound seats on smaller aircraft flown by both Air Wisconsin and Great Lakes.
McKenna said he could understand if local air travelers have become a little confused about which airline is serving this market on behalf of United. He said the shifts between Air Wisconsin and Great Lakes have been intended to gain the flexibility it needed to serve changing market conditions.
"It was always our intent that would be temporary," McKenna said of the past six months when only Great Lakes served YVRA.
The long-range plan, McKenna said, is for United Express carriers to provide "seamless" service, a term meant to imply standardization on the level of service United customers can expect.
For example, McKenna said, Great Lakes is not able to offer lavatories and flight attendants on its smaller aircraft. Air Wisconsin does offer that service on all of its flights, and United Express wants to standardize on that model.
Therefore, while United will continue to code share with Great Lakes in other markets, it will be flying as Great lakes Aviation and not as United Express.
Great Lakes might return to Yampa Valley Regional Airport someday, McKenna said, but not under its code-sharing arrangement with United.
Air Wisconsin and United have ordered a new fleet of 50-passenger regional jets from Canadair. Air Wisconsin's stated goal is to convert entirely to jets throughout its system.
However, Halgren said he believes that day won't come for 10 years. McKenna added that any speculation about what the eventual conversion to jets implies for commuter service in the Yampa Valley would be premature.