A jet airplane lands at Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden. Sixel Consulting will present the preliminary findings of a YVRA air service study to the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Photo by John F. Russell

A jet airplane lands at Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden. Sixel Consulting will present the preliminary findings of a YVRA air service study to the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Potential lies in targeting the 85 percent of air travelers who leave the Yampa Valley to catch a flight

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What: Sixel Consulting Group presents preliminary findings of an air service study for Yampa Valley Regional Airport

When: 1 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Commissioners Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs

— The potential for securing additional non-ski-season air service to Yampa Valley Regional Airport will be on the agenda Tuesday afternoon as Routt County commissioners get the results of a preliminary report by Sixel Consulting Group.

Ironically, the report comes just four days after members of the Local Marketing District, which contracts for ski season direct jet flights, announced they would use some of the lodging tax dollars they oversee to land new summer service four times each week from Houston beginning June 26.

Still, the preliminary report by Sixel reveals there may be potential for more flights that meet the needs of visitors headed for Steamboat and the mix of leisure and business travelers who might change their current habit of driving to Denver to catch economical flights to distant cities.

Sixel studied nearly 6,000 airline tickets spanning July through December 2012 (taking in a portion of the ski season) and April through June 2013 to conclude that although YVRA’s catchment area for local fliers generates 270 airline flights per day, 215 of those head to Denver and another 15 drive to Grand Junction to begin their airline travel.

Optimists might conclude that having even more new flights outside ski season provides an opportunity to capture some of the 86 percent of local air travelers who decided to leave the Yampa Valley to board a commercial airline flight.

“The results of the study indicate the Yampa Valley Regional Airport has a passenger market large enough to support additional service,” Sixel’s President Mark Sixel wrote in a letter to the commissioners. “However, this study alone will not be enough to acquire additional service. It is likely the Yampa Valley Regional Airport will have to offer some kind of risk mitigation program, including fee waivers, marketing and even ground handling, to attract additional service at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.”

It’s no secret that many of the airline travelers leaking from an area within 90 minutes driving time of YVRA are intent on purchasing more economical tickets. Denver International Airport has a surplus of seats on low-cost airlines such as Southwest and ranks sixth in the world in terms of low-cost seat capacity, according to the Denver Business Journal. And the rapid growth of Southwest Airlines is continuing that trend.

YVRA manager Dave Ruppel said Monday that he is aware that local fliers view tickets from his airport as being expensive, but he suggested that those fares likely resemble the norm in larger cities.

The Sixel study shows the top destinations for travelers from the Yampa Valley are the Los Angeles basin and New York/Newark.

But Ruppel said the choice of Houston as a summer destination flight may be ideal because of its dual capability of providing local travelers with a convenient destination hub while attracting people seeking to come here to escape the heat and humidity of the southern tier of states.

“There’s good opportunity for Houston,” Ruppel said. “It connects well with other destinations, plus serves people who want to come here. That’s what we want to look for. The LA basin might be another one of those places that provides us an opportunity in both directions. There’s more work to be done, but this is a good start.”

Routt County’s contract with Sixel intentionally was structured to give commissioners a realistic look at the possibilities before opting to spend more to retain Sixel to build a case for air service to another destination. And everyone involved understands it will take significant economic incentives.

“We want to make sure we’re not spending money on something that really doesn’t have any opportunities,” Rupel said. “I was recently at a meeting at DIA where I heard, again, the airlines in general are pulling out of small towns across the country. The airlines are no longer in a position where they’re willing to assume the risk.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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Comments

Scott Wedel 8 months, 1 week ago

It’s no secret that many of the airline travelers leaking from an area within 90 minutes driving time of YVRA ...

So the YVRA service area includes Walden, Kremmling and Avon? The validity of a study based upon 90 minute drive time to YVRA would seem to include many that will never travel to YVRA to take a flight.

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John Weibel 8 months, 1 week ago

The article has the quote of ninety minutes from YVRA, so even if Scott did not the point is very valid. Kremling is 90 minutes from YVRA and there is virtually no way, someone from Kremling, will make the drive to YVRA for a flight.

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Dan Hill 8 months, 1 week ago

It isn't just lower airfares causing people to drive to Denver. It's also frequency and reliability of service, especially if you are travelling for business.

I think we are much too focussed on direct services. We'll never fund enough of those to be a game changer outside the peak winter season. What we need to focus on is reliable and affordable service to Denver year round.

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Mark Rueff 8 months, 1 week ago

And it's annoying that we have to pay for parking, which impacts only locals! The rate is similar to Denver parking, so what's the advantage? I sometimes drive to Eagle because it's free parking, similar fares and much easier drive than Denver. And if you want to expand summer services, please get another airline involved. I have tons of United miles, but they don't always have efficient routes. If you added flights from American, it would give locals much more diversity of routes and a foothold into the Caribbean, Central and South America.

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Scott Wedel 8 months, 1 week ago

I didn't read the report because i didn't see where it had been made publicly available.

I think it is fair to think that a quote from the report is accurate.

I am not suggesting the report is to be simply dismissed. But with any analysis, anyone reading the conclusions should first consider the methodology and consider to what extent questionable methodology affects the final results. A 90 minute drive time appears to be a highly questionable criteria because it would appear to include people whom would not consider YVRA as being their local airport. Thus, the number of potential customers is probably incorrectly inflated and that should be taken into consideration when reading the report.

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scott bideau 8 months, 1 week ago

Executive Summary can be found at: http://www.co.routt.co.us/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/1504?fileID=1643

The study area is graphically depicted at the very top. Sixel is the foremost expert in this area and I believe they have accurately included the right target market.

The article considers it ironic that this study came out right after the Houston flight was chosen by the LMD. I would describe it as unfortunate. I strongly lobbied for the LMD to look at this data before making their decision, but for some reason that didn't happen. I asked the question at the LMD meeting as to why they were choosing Houston, and about the only data point I got was that "it's a hub." No understanding of current demand for Houston. And keep in mind that a Houston summer flight was chosen in the past and for whatever reason it ended.

I'm very excited about the momentum finally happening for data-driven analysis on air service. Yet I'm still concerned about the culture of the county, LMD, airport commission, city, etc. in making decisions (especially with taxpayer money) on a whim, on Ski Corp's request, or light assumptions rather than the same type of data the private sector would use prior to investing their capital.

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scott bideau 8 months, 1 week ago

Here is the classic use case I always show people when comparing HDN to DIA, assuming a 4-day business/personal trip:

HDN Parking: $32.00 Mileage Rate between town and HDN (round trip, 50 miles total): $28.00 Average Round Trip Fare (from Sixel study): $542.00 TOTAL: $602.00

DIA Parking (close-in, what most business travelers use): $92.00 Mileage Rate between Steamboat and DIA (round trip, 360 miles total): $201.60 Average Round Trip Fare (from Sixel study): $372.00 TOTAL: $665.60

Is it worth a $63.60 savings to drive to DIA? Not if you value your time - which is lost for about 7 hours driving round trip to DIA and getting to/from your gate versus 30 minutes driving to HDN and walking across the street then quickly getting to your gate. Throw in the added productivity of being able to work on the entire flight (after FAA relaxed the electronic device rules) and getting double segment credit towards elite status, and HDN makes perfect sense - as long as the reliability and schedule choices are there.

When you compare the $602.00 HDN number to more common fares found at other hubs, the difference is even less. This is why I use HDN - because it's convenient, efficient, and less expensive than my work peers traveling out of Chicago, Boston, etc.

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Kathie Jacobsen 8 months, 1 week ago

We maintain two homes currently - one in Southern California, and our heart home in the Elk River. We can't get to Steamboat fast enough, and personally, adding year round non-stop service, even if it is to LA (ugh), is better and faster for us.

Sorry to see service added prior to seeing what markets support the non-stop service.

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Scott Wedel 8 months, 1 week ago

Well, then people are stupid. Or maybe the reasons for picking DIA is more than $63.

Does is really cost $201 to drive round trip to DIA? Not for most people.

Do business travelers really use the close in parking at DIA for a 4 day trip? Their outer lots get such frequent bus service that little time is saved using the close in parking and it is hardly worth the extra $60 for 4 days of close in parking.

Does it really cost 7 hours more to travel to DIA? Only if you are comparing a direct flight from Hayden to a direct flight from DIA. If the Hayden to DIA leg has a two hour layover then you can leave your house later to drive to DIA than to drive to Hayden to catch the Hayden to DIA flight. And maybe you plan on combining the drive to DIA with needed errands in Denver.

As a general rule, I think any study that says people are making stupid choices has failed to go deep enough to also explain why they are making the stupid choice and not the smart choice. It is that deeper reason that needs to be changed in people's minds if you want to affect their behavior.

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David Moore 8 months ago

I have to agree with you Mr. Wedel. Personal trip in January, three people went but I will break it down for one person: Fuel: one tank for up and back, $60 Food and snacks, $25 Round trip airfare to PDX(Portland Oregon), $160 per person on Frontier. Parking in the very efficient Pikes Peak lot, $8 a day for 6 days=$48. Total: $293 Just looked up the cost for a flight from HDN to DIA for an upcoming trip this March, round trip=$471, just for the flight, add in the 6 days parking and you are well over $500. My method blows that clean out of the water. Am very interested in a sensible explanation, which I don't think there is one, other than pure greed of course.

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Mark Rueff 8 months ago

Many companies will not pay the added expense of flying out of HDN. I had to move to Denver for 1.5 years because the consulting company I worked for would not fly me to clients in Texas from HDN. The math makes sense Scott, but not everybody thinks in those terms. And I've had to rent one-way cars for $160 just to get home after flights were cancelled, which has only happened in the summer (annoying). Yes I make status and most times it's quicker for me to fly out of HDN. But I really believe we need to get another airline flying out of here in the summer, not just United. Dallas on American would have been a much better choice that Houston.

Another annoying fact about HDN (other then we have to pay for parking): They recently stopped returning carry-ons at the ramp the last few flights I was on. If I wanted to wait around the airport for another 30 minutes, I would have checked my bags! Now I stuff my bag under the seat in front of me to make sure that I get my bag when I get off the plane. Because after you've been traveling for 10 hours (3-4 layover in DEN waiting for at 9:30 flight that is always delayed), the last thing you want to do is wait another 30 minutes and get home at 1am.

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Steve Lewis 8 months ago

Thank you Routt County for having the airport study done. Great step for better utilizing this critical asset and providing better air service to Routt county residents and businesses.

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Robert Huron 8 months ago

What is being totally ignored is the unreliability of United Express flown by Republic Airlines. What good does it do to fly out of HDN(non ski season) when your flight is cancelled due to "lack of crew" and you miss your connection.. When the evening flight to HDN. is cancelled that also cancels the first flight out in the morning. This happened a few months ago and I had to drive 7 hours round trip to Denver to pick up passengers that were forced to spend the night at their own expense because United refused to pay for the hotel. Flights out of HDN are on average $200 to $300 more expensive round trip than flying out of DIA and if your flight is cancelled you can add hundreds more.

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jerry carlton 8 months ago

David Moore I have no horse in this race but it costs more than gasoline to drive a vehicle and if you count only that you are fooling yourself.

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David Moore 8 months ago

Are we going to get that technical? OK, $70 for the trip instead of $60. Still does not make it sensible to fly 140 miles for $471 dollars.

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Scott Wedel 8 months ago

Driving is more expensive than just the gas, but the depreciation cost of the car mostly occurs whether or not the car is driven. So the real cost is somewhere in between the cost of a tank of gas and $.56 per mile.

Though, i suggest the bigger point is that if the study is to be believed then cost is not the big difference and so then why are so many people using DIA instead of YVRA? If the study say that the issue isn't cost then the study needs to dig deeper and say what are the issues.

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cindy constantine 8 months ago

1) Many Steamboat residents have friends/family in the Denver metro area to visit. In addition, the savings/choice of shopping in a big metro area are draws. 2) Trust of reliability of a larger airport. If you have been burned in HDN one or more times, you do not even consider taking yet another risk of missing a connecting flight. 3) Convenience of flight times. There are not enough flight opportunities for connections with other flights without long layovers. The inconvenience of not having a car in Denver if your flight in HDN is delayed makes the drive to Denver less stressful. 4) Fear of flying smaller planes over the Continental Divide. One bad flight experience over the Continental Divide in a small plane is enough to make the drive to Denver more appealing. 5) Cost, cost, cost

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David Moore 8 months ago

Cost, cost, cost, the driving point of this whole thing.

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Scott Wedel 8 months ago

But according to the study, the issue is not cost.

So are people's perception wrong? Or do people calculate cost differently than the study?

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cindy constantine 8 months ago

Obviously, people calculate costs differently. Plus all the other advantages of driving to the front range for shopping, sporting events, visiting friends/family, entertainment venues not to mention picking up and taking guests back to DIA who have also found it is too expensive to fly into HDN.

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David Moore 8 months ago

Well, I am not blind and when I see the cost of a flight to DIA costing $471 it makes me wonder where their figures come from. I don't really like to fly, prefer driving and so I don't know why I am getting all riled up and crying about it, as i was accused of in a different thread. I have driven from the middle of nowhere to anywhere I wanted to go, and will continue to do so. Until the cost comes down, significantly, it appears 85% of the residents of this valley will continue to drive to Denver to destinations elsewhere by air travel.

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Melanie Turek 8 months ago

Most business travelers don't care about shopping or visiting family in Denver. They want to get to their meeting and get home. Most of my business trip--a dozen or so per year--are 36 hours long; if I am delayed until the next day, I miss the reason for going. Given that so many flights in and out of HDN are cancelled, I simply cannot take the risk, although I would much prefer to fly out of there, and I don't care about the relatively minor difference in cost (minor for one person traveling on business; when I travel with a family of 5, cost does matter).

What amazes me is that no one at the airlines, the airport or the LMD seems to care that something like 50% of all flights between HDN and DEN are cancelled, and almost all those are due to mechanical or lack of crew (according to a Pilot article last month). That's just an insane way to operate a business. And you'd think there would at least be a claw-back clause in the contract that allow us to get our subsidies back for any flight cancelled for any reason other than weather.

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Scott Wedel 8 months ago

The comments from business travelers suggest that cancelled flights are a common issue causing people to drive

I note that it is not generally an acceptable situation to drive after learning the flight has been cancelled. Thus, a cancelled flight is a worse situation for the traveler than driving to DIA.

So my question to those travelers is about what percentage of flights being cancelled makes it worth to drive to DIA?

Presumably, the answer is based upon how many hours or opportunities are lost due to a cancelled flight. For instance, if a cancelled flight costs you 12 hours while driving to Denver costs an extra 2 hours then 5 of 6 flights cannot be cancelled to even consider using Hayden.

That suggests part of the challenge is that driving is considered reliable as long as avoiding I70 weekend traffic and Hayden to DIA is not considered reliable because it doesn't take many flight cancellations to make it worthwhile to always drive.

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Melanie Turek 8 months ago

Scott, that's a fair question. The average on-time percentage for US airlines appears to hover around 80%. According to a recent article in the Pilot, of 182 flights in and out of YVRA between Jan 1 and Feb 11, 65% were on time; of the 82 cancelled or delayed flights, 52 were due to mechanical or crew problems. So, excluding the flights delayed by weather, which no one can control (and it's been a bad winter--many of those cancellations were due to weather in OTHER places), about 1/3 of flights in/out of YVRA were cancelled due to mechanical/crew. That, to me, is simply unacceptable. In an ideal world, the number should be zero. In the real world, I might accept 10%, with full refunds given for all cancelled flights. But the other issue, of course, is that if one is flying out of DIA and a flight is cancelled or severely delayed, there are other options--later flights, other airlines--so it is almost always possible to make it to your destination the same day (though sometimes very very late at night). That's not something HDN can match, and I don't expect it to--but it does but even more of a burden on the airlines to fly in and out of that airport on time and as planned.

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Jason Krueger 8 months ago

Scott and David, As a business traveller, the cost is not the primary issue with Hayden (at least for me). The issue is the unreliable service and poorly managed airline that runs things. While Hayden staff are generally professional and hard-working, Republic Airlines (the United subsidiary) is apparently being run by interns down in Denver. It is appalling how disorganized the operations are in Denver. According to United's own "on time performance report", the HDN-DEN/DEN-HDN flight is cancelled or delayed 25% of the time. Please tell me what other service you would be willing to pay a premium price for in return for "C-" service?

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John Weibel 8 months ago

The county should really be striving for A service, once a day at a time that works for the county. Figure out how to work that out with the airlines, it will cut labor and thus the fees needed to be charged to operate the airport with full staff including the restaurant staff which are now county employees.

Unfortunately, the study was simply money that was essentially thrown away, in an attempt to comprehend what is fairly common sense, given the articles in the paper over the past year or two. It is not rocket science. United or even American knows what it would take for them to have a leg ending up in Steamboat Springs with a layover in Denver, Salt Lake or ???. Ask them how to structure fees/incentives to have a real jet with consistent service fly in at a reasonable rate so that people choose to fly out of Hayden.

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mark hartless 8 months ago

Why doesn't the County just purchase a decent plane and fly round trips to DIA 3 or 4 times daily?

Then it could charge fares on a sliding scale; the more a person paid in personal property taxes last year-the lower their fare!!

Of course it would exempt owners of "agricultural" property and they woulf fly first-class free, because of the overwhelming contribution their hay bales contribute to the county revenue as well as Autumn scenery.

Out of towners would still fly free as well because just like casinos, the community just can't seem to live without them. Nor will it ever since it will not even consider allowing oil and gas revenue, or any other worthwhile industry, to be a meaningful part of it's economy.

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scott bideau 8 months ago

Melanie - Assuming you are talking about this article: http://steamboattoday.com/news/2014/feb/11/majority-flight-delays-yvra-due-flight-crew-availa/

The phrase "cancelled or delayed" is used, not just cancelled. Also, this was for flights in the first few weeks of February, not since Jan 1.

I get the stats from airport management each month and January was only a 5% cancellation rate (30 out of 578). And that's for any reason (including weather). Even at Republic's worst last summer I don't think their non-weather cancellation rate was 30%, but I will get the data and report back.

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Melanie Turek 8 months ago

Thanks for the clarifications, Scott. My experience has been so bad, I guess I assumed the worst :-)

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Scott Wedel 8 months ago

The overall percentage of Hayden flights being cancelled or delayed is not exactly the question. The question is the reliability of Hayden/Denver flights and not Hayden's direct flights to distant cities. The long haul flights in bigger planes are presumably more reliable and are certainly less likely to be cancelled by lack of pilots.

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Shannon Dillard 7 months, 4 weeks ago

I guess the biggest problem I have with the flight costs from Denver to Hayden is the fact that they are so much more expensive than similar flights in other areas. We are flying our son from Kenai to Anchorage in August (30 minute flight) for $85 one way while the flight from Denver to Hayden is $482 one way. There are 13 flights/day for the Kenai flight and 2 for the Denver/Hayden flight. Why do the airlines charge such extravagant rates in Hayden when it can be done for less than 20% of the Denver/Hayden cost in Alaska. I'm flying to Little Rock next month and my round trip flight from Hayden to Little Rock is $718 but my round trip flight from Denver to Little Rock is $188. Even driving a gas hog 1-ton I get there and back on 1 tank of gas or about $110. 4 days of parking adds another $24. I will gladly save over $400 for 7 hours of driving. If this was a family trip then the savings would be over $1200. I would love to fly in and out of Hayden for the convenience but the added cost is ridiculous. Scott, the big difference is cost with me.

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scott bideau 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I have suggested several times that either the county or LMD pay for an onsite mechanic. Seems that this fractional investment (compared to $2.5m in revenue guarantees) would be worthwhile.

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David Moore 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Meanwhile I am driving to SLC three times for flights this summer and DIA twice. I don't own a business that pays my airfare, so for us "just locals" the bottom line remains the cost, I have heard nothing to justify it.

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scott bideau 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Let me clarify. The county/airport wouldn't contract the mechanic services (and take on any liability) - they would simply pay him to sit at the airport :)

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Melanie Turek 7 months, 3 weeks ago

How many mechanics does it take to change a light bulb? Apparently, too many for Denver and United... 10pm flight tonight delayed for mechanical. Also, no flight attendant. THIS is why flying out of HDN is such a bust.

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