Steamboat Springs Jets - once again - will be the sole carriers of Yampa Valley Regional Airport passengers flying United Express. But this time, the service will come without a six-figure price tag for the local business community.
Mesa Air Group announced Thursday that it will terminate its operation of 10 Dash-8 turboprop airplanes under a code-share agreement with United Airlines by April 30.
"We face a challenging period during the next few quarters and will strive to mitigate the impact of the termination of aircraft under our code-share agreement with United Airlines," Mesa Chairman and CEO Jonathan Ornstein said in a news release.
Mesa's challenges have proved Steamboat Springs' gain. The announcement came as Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials were meeting with United executives in Chicago to negotiate 2010 airline service to Yampa Valley Regional Airport, according to Andy Wirth, Ski Corp. senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Without Mesa Air Group available to serve YVRA with turboprops, Wirth said United offered to serve the airport with jets operated by SkyWest Airlines - without the expensive strings it previously attached to jet service.
"This is great news because the traveling customer just gravitates for lots of reasons to the jet product," Wirth said Friday. "We're particularly thrilled about this news."
In 2007, Ski Corp. struck a deal to move to jet-only United Express service beginning in April 2008. The RJ-50 and CRJ jets can carry more passengers and are faster, more reliable and more comfortable than the Dash-8. The move was accommodated by a contract giving United revenue guarantees from Ski Corp., the city's Local Marketing District and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's Fly Steamboat program.
Decreasing numbers of passengers forced an increase in the underwriting costs this past ski season and summer.
For next year, the funding partners had a choice between a return to Mesa's turboprop planes without revenue guarantees or the much-preferred jet service that could cost as much as $300,000.
Wirth said the funding partners were prepared to spend "in excess of $200,000" for next year, but Mesa's announcement Thursday made the decision much easier.
"With this news and given our track record of performance and overall relationship, I think (United) decided it unnecessary to strike a contract with us," Wirth said. "They knew we'll work hard to optimize these flights' performance."
The LMD, including representatives of the resort community, makes recommendations to the Steamboat Springs City Council about how to spend two points of lodging tax committed to underwriting air service.
The funds augment a larger share provided by Ski Corp., and Chamber members pledge money to the Fly Steamboat program in exchange for discounted ski passes.
Wirth said one Dash-8 would remain in the mix at YVRA through the 2009-10 ski season. He expects jets to take over by April 30. Wirth said the local business leaders he has informed also are thrilled with the news.
LMD board member Chuck Porter also enthusiastically announced the news Friday at the Chamber's annual meeting and luncheon. Porter received the 2009 Navigator Award for business leader of the year.
"Yampa Valley Regional Airport will be served completely by jets next spring, summer and fall with zero subsidies," Porter said. "That means we can take $250,000 to $300,000 and put it right back into our reserves."
Tom Ross contributed to this story.