Steamboat Springs Frontier Airlines service between Denver and Hayden - originally expected by ski season but held up by Federal Aviation Administration approval - now faces an additional hurdle.
The European Union's aviation safety authority called for a "crisis meeting" this week regarding the safety of Bombardier Q-400 turboprop planes. Frontier has purchased 10 of the same planes to increase its regional service out of Denver through its subsidiary, Lynx Aviation.
On Saturday, a Q-400 operated by Scandinavian airline SAS crash landed in Copenhagen, Denmark, with a landing gear malfunction. Although there were no serious injuries, it was the third such incident in seven weeks and sixth overall involving the Q-400.
Frontier hoped to launch Lynx this month, but delays in federal certification have pushed the company's estimated launch to December. Although the airline has not officially announced that Yampa Valley Regional Airport will be included in its slate of Western Slope resort airports, Andy Wirth, marketing director for the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and parent company Intrawest, has all but confirmed it.
"We've been in touch on a weekly basis with Frontier officials," Wirth said Tuesday. "Both of us remain confident they'll get that certification."
Noting that safety is the airline's top priority, Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said he doesn't expect the crash landings in Europe to further hold up Lynx's FAA approval. Hodas said the planes that had landing gear malfunctions are seven or eight years old.
"The good news for us is that we're not the test airline," Hodas said. "Whatever incidents are arising can be addressed long before our planes reach that age."
Hodas also said the Q-400, released in 2000, is a new model and that new models commonly have such issues.
Wirth's confidence in winning the Frontier service led him to include the service in a June estimate of 175,000 available seats for air passengers this ski season. After subtracting Frontier service from the estimate and adding a United flight from Chicago, Wirth has pared that estimate down to 164,000 - which would still be a record year for the air program. Wirth said the success of Steamboat's winter air program is "not reliant on (Frontier) to have a successful year."
Wirth also acknowledged that with each passing day, Frontier's potential to land ski season reservations is diminished.
"When they announce service and go on sale is as important or more important than when they start service," said Wirth, who noted that 40 to 45 percent of ski season reservations have already been made. "It really limits their potential for success."
At the same time, Wirth said Ski Corp. is looking at the big picture and the potential for year-round, not just winter, service.
"We recognize that and appreciate this as a year-round matter," Wirth said.
Last month, YVRA Manager Dave Ruppel confirmed there is an available ticketing desk at passenger check-in to accommodate Lynx should it receive its certification and choose to come to the county airport.