Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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Steamboat Springs I am one of those “location-neutral” employees who lives in Steamboat Springs and works remotely for a company outside of our area. Having flown nearly 50,000 miles in and out of Yampa Valley Regional Airport since Referendum 2B was announced, I am a strong advocate for improved air service and increased capacity out of our Hayden airport. However, I don’t think this referendum by itself will produce the improvements this community needs.
Let me first address the capacity issue, which the referendum attempts to solve. Anyone who has flown midweek out of YVRA knows that you often have an empty seat next to you. Take that same flight toward the beginning or end of the week, and it usually is full. The combination of the two scenarios averages out to the 70 percent airplane capacity that Referendum 2B supporters often cite. Until the airlines agree to a variable schedule (rather than the same one every day of the week), we are stuck with paying for empty seats to meet or increase peak-day capacity.
The second issue is service. For the past several years, passengers have found themselves in the middle of a construction zone at YVRA. This has included having to step outside (in the freezing cold) and then back inside to claim your bags, confusing paths to and from the gate, the lack of a restaurant, limited ground transportation options, etc. This inconvenience is multiplied when a flight is canceled. I frequently have given tourists rides back to town because either the rental car or taxi counter already had closed before the last flight of the day was canceled, which basically puts them in a stranded position at the airport. The feedback from those visitors is always consistent: frustration with YVRA but appreciation for the kindness of our community. If we’re going to subsidize the carriers bringing passengers into our airport, we should be ready for them. The current situation at YVRA is unacceptable and causes most of my visitors to fly into Denver instead.
Regarding the airline’s service, I strongly believe our community needs to find a way to bring back two airlines year-round. During the summer, United is both a single point of failure and non-competitive. Unfortunately, the community has little, if any, input into the selection of airlines since negotiations happen between the airlines and Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. This is a fundamental flaw in Referendum 2B — diverting taxpayer money to a private organization for distribution.
I am a full supporter of Referendum 2B (at least for the five-year trial) with the following two stipulations or modifications:
- The creation of a committee represented by the funding members of the air service program (one-third from the resort, one-third from the lodging community and one-third from taxpayers) to negotiate with the airlines for service. Their first task should be to explore airlines that are interested in providing variable air service to avoid the peaks and valleys we currently experience throughout the week. The second should be dividing summer service between two competitive airlines.
- Improved transparency and reporting on YVRA construction, service levels and its future roadmap. Specifically, I’d like to see a larger, more diverse airport commission consisting of more frequent users of that air service.
I believe both these policy changes are possible to enact (or at least plan to enact) before the vote on Referendum 2B. I encourage everyone in our community to share their opinion on these matters with their City Council members and the airport commissioners. Ask the difficult questions that either make you for or against the vote instead of relying on simple marketing materials.