Steamboat ski season flight program seeks new destination cities, focuses seats on peak demand days

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— The managers of Steamboat’s ski season flight program are looking for opportunities to initiate new service from additional hub cities, particularly during periods of peak demand.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Airline Program Manager Janet Fischer told the board of the Local Marketing District on Friday that concentrating available seats to Steamboat during times of peak demand has been an effective strategy in recent winters.

“That's one of the real positives of this winter — the performance of our contracted flights have really improved significantly in terms of load factors and yield,” Fischer said. “We’re focusing our service on the peak. Peak performs better.”

The LMD board oversees the expenditure of city tax revenues on revenue guarantees needed to attract the air service, and reports to the Steamboat Springs City Council. Fischer did not reveal any of the hubs where Ski Corp. would like to open up new service because talks are ongoing with different airlines. She said that on a weekly basis, peak demand occurs essentially Friday through Sunday.

“We’ve met with Alaska, United and Delta and we meet with American next week,” Fischer told the LMD board. “We’ve also had meetings with two carriers we currently are not working with. Our goals are to maintain all of these core flights," including Los Angeles and Seattle.

She said the 2-year-old service from L.A. and the inaugural season of Seattle flights performed well this winter and the hope is to expand the service from both destinations.

“We’re definitely interested in growing the Alaska Airlines program, it being the new program. The operations of that flight were flawless. They didn’t take a single delay or cancellation. We also want to build Los Angeles. We started with two a week, then three and we’re going to try to build that,” Fischer said.

Despite the aggressive stance the airline program is taking toward expanding into new cities, the news about last season’s flights was mixed.

For the second winter in a row, the number of passengers arriving at YVRA was down (4 percent) after falling 6 percent during the winter of 2012-13. But just like that winter, the past winter saw load factors up (a couple of points to 70 percent). And for the second straight year, the program is tentatively set to carry a reserve balance into the coming winter because of the positive economic performance of the flights.

“Program costs were really a positive,” Fischer said. “Costs were $2.95 million; it’s about a $1.83 million savings under the full cap of $4.78 million.”

The term “caps” refers to limits on the maximum amount the air program could be required to pay the airlines against minimum revenue guarantees that are part of most contracts for air service into YVRA in ski season.

A year ago, Fischer reported that the cost of the airline program was $2.66 million against caps of $4 million.

The economic efficiencies realized in terms of load factors and revenues were offset by the number of flights canceled, often due to wintry conditions elsewhere in the country, that reduced the number of people arriving on the flights.

“In terms of available seats, we had a lot of cancellations this year,” Fischer said. “Our airport usually does really well, but at Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Houston we had significant pre-cancellations and we continued to struggle with our Denver/United Express Service."

A May 13 news article from The Associated Press confirmed that the past winter was the worst in 20 years in terms of flight cancellations. It said 4.6 percent of flights in the U.S. were canceled January through February. Yampa Valley Regional Airport reported that the numbers of arriving passengers here were down 800 in February.

The article added that new federal regulations that enforce stiff fines on airlines that leave passengers stranded on taxiways for too long a time, also has fed into the airlines’ tendencies to cancel flights in advance based on storm forecasts in order to avoid paying the penalties.

The LMD board voted to adjourn into executive session to discuss the details of airline contract negotiations with Fischer and Ski Corp. Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rob Perlman.

The LMD board next meets July 18 and then again Aug. 15. Both meetings are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

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

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