Steamboat Springs The midday United Express flight from Denver arrived on time at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden on Monday, but all too often this month that has been a 50/50 proposition, and airport officials are concerned.
“I would say we’ve had more flights (in October) that were late or had other problems than not,” YVRA Manager Dave Ruppel said Monday. “It can’t continue the way it’s going right now. It’s frustrating, but we will get this fixed and we want to make sure that passengers realize that this is an aberration.”
Ruppel said the late flights and flights that just didn’t operate at all have their roots in September, when United Express began mixing longstanding regional jet service operated by SkyWest Airlines with service on 73-passenger Bombardier Q400 turboprops operated by Indianapolis-based Republic Airlines. Schedule reliability became more acute this month when service was shifted entirely to Republic with two flights a day arriving on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and three flights the rest of the week.
On more than one occasion, both daily flights have been canceled, Ruppel said. Some passengers have taken taxi service to Denver, some have driven themselves, and others have postponed their travels until the next day.
Ruppel said the problem is not with the aircraft Republic is flying, but with difficulties assembling crews or other issues that haven’t been specifically reported.
He said airport and United Express officials have been engaged in talks for two weeks now without reaching any conclusions.
“I think the passenger cabin is more comfortable and less cramped than on the CRJ7” jet flown by SkyWest, Ruppel said. “The Q400 is much more economical. It’s a good aircraft for this type of service.”
The plane represents a new generation of fast turboprops with vibration dampening to reduce the noise that passengers experience.
Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. spokesman Mike Lane wrote in an email Monday that ski area officials learned in late August that the Q400s would be part of the picture at YVRA this winter.
A search of ski season flights in and out of YVRA to Denver on United Express reflects that those flights will be covered by a mix of SkyWest Airlines' CRJ7s and Republic Airlines' Q400s.
“It looks right now like winter will be bout 50/50 SkyWest (and) Republic,” Lane wrote. “We have four daily (Denver/Hayden) flights during ski season and we contract one of those. Our contracted flight is under contract to fly as a CR7 and will remain so. We stated our preference to maintain the non-contracted Hayden flights with SkyWest CR7 service at the time we first learned about this, and we continue to state our preference for the jets. It is my understanding that many of the mountain airports and regional United Express routes have been switched to the Q.”
Republic Airways is the parent company of Denver-based Frontier Airlines after buying it out of bankruptcy protection, as well as of Republic Airlines. It’s ironic that Frontier flew the Q400 to YRVA in 2008-09 under its Lynx commuter subsidiary until Republic acquired Frontier and announced in February 2010 that it would phase out the Q400s by September. Lynx had 11 Q400s.
There appears to have been a change in outlook at Republic. It announced a tentative deal in May, calling for it to operate a fleet of 32 Q400s on behalf of United Express.
Lane said the ski area has a lengthy track record of working with United to improve air service here.
“United is a great partner with Steamboat and we continue to work with them on providing convenient service for guests into Ski Town USA this winter,” he wrote. “Fleet and schedules for non-contracted air service are managed by the airline and may fluctuate depending upon overall needs.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com