A United Express Q400 turboprop operated by Republic Airlines takes off from Yampa Valley Regional Airport in October, when airport Manager Dave Ruppel first expressed concerns about the growing problem with the Q400's on-time record. On Wednesday, a high-ranking United Express operations executive met with Steamboat resort officials and community leaders to talk about her company’s progress in improving the reliability of the four daily flights between Denver and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

John F. Russell/file

A United Express Q400 turboprop operated by Republic Airlines takes off from Yampa Valley Regional Airport in October, when airport Manager Dave Ruppel first expressed concerns about the growing problem with the Q400's on-time record. On Wednesday, a high-ranking United Express operations executive met with Steamboat resort officials and community leaders to talk about her company’s progress in improving the reliability of the four daily flights between Denver and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

United Express official tells Steamboat Springs leaders the company is working to address late flights

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— A high-ranking United Express operations executive met twice this week with Steamboat resort officials and community leaders to talk about her company’s progress in improving the on-time reliability of the four daily flights between Denver and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Chuck Porter — co-chairman of the board of the Local Marketing District, which oversees the expenditure of tax revenue to secure air service here — said he attended a meeting Tuesday with Senior Manager of United Express Operations Alicia Gabriel.

“They seemed sincere in the meeting that they recognized the issues," Porter said. "They weren’t proud of it, and it sounded to me like they were taking steps to mitigate the problem and get back on track. They’re striving to make improvements.”

United Express is flying regional jets and Q400 turboprops here this winter, with the jet operated by SkyWest Airlines and the Q400s flown by Republic Airlines. Most of the problems with late flights and cancellations appear to be generated by the Republic operations of the Q400, not necessarily tied to the aircraft itself but Republic having to work quickly to assemble enough flight crews.

Porter knows firsthand about the service problems.

“I’m really flying a lot these days,” he said. “For a while, I was getting pretty good flights, getting stuck in Denver once in awhile. Then, I hit a rash of cancellations and baggage issues. In October, November, December and January, almost every flight I was on had an issue.”

Gabriel sat down again with some business leaders at about noon Wednesday in the ballroom of The Steamboat Grand at the conclusion of a series of speeches that kicked off Steamboat’s Airlines Partners Summit. She would not speak for attribution to a reporter.

Porter said that on Tuesday, Gabriel emphasized that United Airlines/United Express had decided that the 70-passenger Q400 was the right aircraft for the mountain towns on the Denver route.

Coincidence or not, all four Denver flights to Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Wednesday were flown with 66-passenger CRJ7 jets. One midday flight arrived about 45 minutes late, and the others were on time.

Airport Manager Dave Ruppel brought up the growing problems with the Q400’s on-time record as long ago as October. At the time, he said things could not continue the way they were going with flights either late or experiencing other problems more often than not.

On Wednesday, Ruppel said the difficulties persisted into ski season when the last flight of the day, scheduled to arrive at 10:19 p.m., sometimes came in at 2, 3 or even 4 a.m. There were times when that happened two to three times each week, putting a significant strain on airport staff.

The last United Express flight of the day stays parked on the apron overnight to become the first flight out to Denver in the morning.

Porter said one of his most trying flights to Steamboat recently involved a multileg return flight from Barcelona, Spain, via Frankfurt, Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., Denver and on to the Yampa Valley.

After working around a general strike in Barcelona, the flights went well until Porter and his wife arrived in Denver to find their flight to YVRA had been canceled.

The result was that Porter had to spend an extra night in Denver and attend the next day’s Local Marketing District board meeting via conference call.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Mark Ruckman 1 year, 6 months ago

Thank You for all of the people involved in fixing this problem. It is refreshing to read that the mgmt team clearly understand that Republic staffing is the root cause.

As frequent flyer, I would love to know the timetable to have the issue resolved.

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Dan Hill 1 year, 6 months ago

I've basically stopped flying out of HDN until this is resolved. Much more reliable to drive to Denver.

It's unfortunate to have taken this major step backwards. The UX Skywest all jet service was a huge improvement over what went before. Why doesn't our revenue guarantee contract with United specify an all jet service? I know, because they are more expensive to operate. Trouble is, visitors (and locals) have made it clear time and time again they don't want to fly in the Steamboat on turboprops.

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walt jones 1 year, 6 months ago

Question is what happened between United and SkyWest that made it so Republic would be the Express carrier. Republic has issues with delays all over the western states.
And yes more people are less anxious flying on CRJ's that turbo props. Less and less turbo props are in the commercial market since ERJ and CRJ have flooded the industry.

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Melanie Turek 1 year, 6 months ago

Another problem with Republic is that they frequently lie about the reason for their cancellations. Recent flight from Denver, the plane was at the gate and the weather in Hayden was (reported by a local) to be clear. Gate agent says "We are just waiting for the crew to arrive and then we will begin boarding." Five minutes later, she comes on again and announces, "This flight has been cancelled due to weather." Now, aside from the general disgust with lying airlines, this matters because when a flight is cancelled due to weather, the airline is not legally obligated to provide passengers with anything but a booking on some later flight. But if a flight is cancelled due to mechanical or other airline-related reasons, they must pay for your meals, hotel stays and sometimes even alternate transportation (like a rental car or Alpine Taxi). I agree with Dan; safer to drive to Denver than risk flying out of Hayden on these lame planes.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 6 months ago

Well, if not safer then at least more reliable. Flying a turboprop is statistically safer than driving.

Airline should be forced to make a signed official statement on why flights are cancelled.

I was stuck in Denver a few years ago when the weather was bad. We waited for hours while the airline said they were waiting for weather to clear at Hayden. Finally, very late they put us on a shuttle bus. I talked next day to Hayden operations and they said they closed the airport around 6 pm and went home. That the airline had given up flying out that day and was flying out in the morning.

SB Resorts could simply tell Republic that they will not book tourists on their flights. And if we are subsidizing these flights then shame on us for not having defined service levels. Simple enough to audit all cancellations against airport operations status reports.

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