Bill Payne of the Colorado Department of  Transportation discusses the challenges facing radar systems at mountain airports across Colorado during the Airline Partners Summit in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday morning.

Photo by Brian Ray

Bill Payne of the Colorado Department of Transportation discusses the challenges facing radar systems at mountain airports across Colorado during the Airline Partners Summit in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday morning.

Lynx Aviation in holding pattern

Likelihood of Frontier service to YVRA fading for the short term

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— Although the touchdown of Frontier Airlines' new turboprop subsidiary at Yampa Valley Regional Airport was expected before the start of the ski season, the airline's dropping profits are dimming hopes that the carrier will begin service to Colorado mountain communities.

YVRA has long been one of Lynx's top targets for future growth because of its proximity to the Steamboat Ski Area, but economic difficulties for the airline, including rising competition and skyrocketing fuel costs, are making the subsidiary's potential presence in Hayden seem ever more unlikely, said Andy Wirth, chief marketing officer for Intrawest, the parent company of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

Given the airline's financial situation, it's unclear when - if ever - Lynx flights will begin at YVRA, Wirth said.

A spokesman for Frontier Airlines did not return calls for comment.

In Frontier's fiscal report for the third quarter of 2008, released Jan. 24, the airline reported a net loss of $32.5 million, including $4.8 million in start-up costs, schedule readjustments and other losses for Lynx, and $3.5 million stemming from increased fuel costs.

Lynx Aviation received its long-awaited approval from the Federal Aviation Administration on Dec. 6 and began flights the next day on its Bombardier Q-400 planes. Initial routes are between Denver and six cities: Rapid City, S.D.; Sioux City, Iowa; Wichita, Kan.; Billings, Mont.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Tulsa, Okla.

Lynx originally planned to begin offering flights in summer 2007, but its federal certification experienced multiple delays. Resort officials were anticipating twice-daily, year-round flights between Denver and YVRA, adding an additional 20,000 ski season seats.

"We have been and remain in a very good position with Frontier," Wirth said. "But what we're seeing is a re-think of their business model."

Frontier is in a difficult competitive situation with United and Southwest airlines at Denver International Airport, especially as Southwest's operations there have grown dramatically in the past few years, Wirth said.

With the addition of roughly 50,000 new ski season seats in the past few years, the Steamboat Ski Area's airline strategy for the next two years will be to absorb those existing gains, Wirth said Wednesday at Ski Corp.'s ninth annual Airline Partners Summit, noting that some base area lodging will be lost during that same time period.

Lynx service aside, ski area officials expect to ask airlines to add additional capacity and new markets and to offer more nonstop flights in 2010, he said.

Airport improvements

With terminal construction at YVRA complete, improvements at the airport are now moving to the technical side. The installation of a sophisticated wide-area multilateralization air traffic control system, which overcomes the limitations of radar, already is under way and expected to be fully operational in time for the 201011 ski season.

WAM uses remote transponder equipment strategically positioned around the airport to triangulate an aircraft's position, said Bill Payne, program director for air traffic control modernization in the Colorado Department of Transportation's aeronautics division.

Because of the Yampa Valley's mountainous terrain, air traffic controllers in Denver lose radar contact with planes on approach to YVRA at about 10,000 feet, and during the 15 minutes it takes to land the aircraft, any other planes in the airport's airspace must circle above the radar cutoff, Wirth said.

With the new WAM system, those 15-minute intervals between landings can be cut to just two minutes, which is crucial during periods of inclement weather, when skies may clear enough for landings for only a short period of time, Wirth said.

The new system will please not only airlines operating flights into YVRA, but make the airport a more desirable passenger destination, as well, Wirth said.

When it's fully operational, the WAM system will reduce missed approaches, late arrivals and diversions, as well as increase flight capacity at Colorado's mountain airports, Payne said.

If the WAM system is deemed to be successful in Craig, Hayden and Steamboat Springs, installation will proceed south to other mountain communities, Payne said. Flight testing of the system will begin in northern Colorado in the next few weeks, he said.

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