If you go
What: Routt County Commissioners consider funding airline service study
When: 1:20 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Commissioners’ Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave.
Steamboat Springs Routt County commissioners could decide Tuesday to spend as much as $38,000 on a study to determine, first whether there is sufficient demand in the area for new non-season airline flights to a new destination, and then what those options might be. But the proposed contract with Sixel Consulting Group is a la carte.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager Dave Ruppel told the commissioners Monday afternoon that Sixel would conduct research to determine how frequently people here fly to which destinations in order to determine the potential number of roundtrips per year on a given route.
Ruppel told the commissioners that if the results of the first phase of the work are encouraging, they could choose to spend more dollars against the contract to generate an air service options study, and ultimately, to make a presentation to specific airlines. The first task is to determine if the local market has an opportunity to attract additional service, and if it does, the second is to make a business case for a specific destination that makes sense for local fliers.
“The purpose of this contract is really to look at whether there are other options out there, especially during the offseason,” Ruppel said. “If there’s an opportunity, we can decide to move on to the next step, or they may tell us, 'You’re barking up the wrong tree, and you should be happy with what you have.’”
According to Eugene, Ore.-based Sixel’s Web page, the company can access airline industry information that isn’t readily available to its clients to accurately assess whether the potential for additional service is real.
“Not only does an airport get a look at its true market size but also a view of which airports in the region its passengers are most frequently using (leakage), why they drive there and what the local airport can do to better serve people who live in its catchment area,” Sixel claims.
Assuming that the community can convince an airline to take on a route that makes business sense, it isn’t likely to come without subsidies, Ruppel predicted.
“We won’t get an additional flight in here without paying for it, that’s just the reality,” Ruppel said.
Sixel already is doing work on behalf of YVRA as a subcontractor to Javiation on the creation of YVRA’s new master plan.
Mike Mooney, an air service strategy consultant for Sixel based in Denver who is working with Javiation on the master plan, supplied a long list of communities his company has helped to land a new air route in the last decade.
In 2013, the company added five new routes for Bullhead City, Ariz., a destination for snowbirds, to cities including Muskegon, Mich., Toledo, Ohio, Springfield, Ill., Joplin, Mo., and Beaumont, Texas. Those flights are on Sun Country Airlines.
Fargo also has seen success with the help of Sixel in the past two years, landing flights to large markets like Denver, St. Petersburg, Fla., Atlanta and Dallas/Fort Worth.
Sixel has succeeded in making the case for its clients to Allegiant Air 10 times in the past couple of years. Most of the cities were larger Midwestern cities including Columbus, Ohio, Rochester, N.Y., South Bend, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan asked Ruppel if charter flights into YVRA might be feasible.
Ruppel replied that charters are tough because they are treated more like general aviation flights at larger airports and typically cannot get gates at the main terminal. That makes it less convenient for people driving to the airport to catch a flight but much less convenient for anyone intending to fly from a different city of origin to catch a charter flight.
“If you’re just going from point A to point B, that works great,” Ruppel said. “But they can’t connect with other flights, so it just doesn’t work well.”
From 2005 to 2007, Steamboat enjoyed non-ski-season, 70-passenger jet flights to Salt Lake City, Utah, on Delta Airlines, where travelers could connect to a large number of destinations. Ruppel said that flight was a success on some levels but suffered from the built-in preference of Delta’s own system to route travelers from Los Angeles to YVRA through Denver instead of through Salt Lake.
“The problem with Salt Lake City was it actually performed pretty well, but that was not best for the airlines in terms of opportunity cost (maximizing revenues from a flight that commanded higher fares from business travelers). So, unless you knew that flight existed and you asked for it, the computer would route you through Denver.”
The Salt Lake flight was secured with federal grants. Fares in 2005 from YVRA started at $298 for destination cities beyond Salt Lake including Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Orange County, Los Angeles, Ontario and Oakland, all in California. A limited number of similar fares are available for cities in Oregon and Washington as well as Reno, Nev., and Las Vegas.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1