Our View: Riding the turbulence to calmer skies
February 12, 2013
Periodic flight performance issues aren't new at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, and to a degree they should be expected given the regional status of the airport, the types of planes that are brought here and the challenging weather conditions of Northwest Colorado. But the consistently subpar performance of United Express' Denver-YVRA leg during the past few months has cast a pall over the operation of the airport and certainly the impression of the unfortunate travelers who have fallen victim to the late and canceled flights.
Adding insult to injury is the money this community pays to airlines like United to guarantee minimum flight revenues for the planes flown into the Yampa Valley throughout the course of the ski season. This Editorial Board has been a supporter of the flight program and the additional city sales tax that was approved by voters in November 2011 to generate more money to try to keep the flights coming. One of our concerns with the poor performance of this particular United flight is that it has the potential to significantly impact public support of the air service program, and thus could reasonably jeopardize future taxpayer support when the new sales tax expires in four short years.
Of course, there are other legitimate concerns. We've often written that YVRA provides the first and last impressions of Steamboat Springs for many visitors to our valley. It's not hard to imagine what that impression might be when your $10,000 family ski vacation was disrupted on one or both ends because of a poor travel experience. We've also written much of late about the growing significance of location-neutral workers to our economy. Those members of our community are among the most frequent fliers out of YVRA, and certainly on the late-evening Denver to YVRA flight operated by Republic Airlines on behalf of United Express. It's that flight in particular that has been the worst performer since last fall, often arriving hours after its scheduled 10:19 p.m. arrival in Hayden — if it even leaves Denver at all. The issues seem to be related to Republic's operations and its ability to scramble together flight crews, not with the aircraft itself.
It must be noted that the United flight at the heart of the issue isn't one for which the community and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. pay revenue guarantees. But that won't be the takeaway from a frustrated flying public.
United Express officials, at least one of whom was in Steamboat last week for the annual Airlines Partners Summit, said they're aware of the issues with the service and the need for improvements. We hope they're sincere.
The unfortunate reality is that we, as a community, have no leverage when it comes to working with the major air carriers. The annual negotiations between Ski Corp. and the airlines are done with honey, not hammers. That reality leaves Ski Corp. and Local Marketing District officials in an unenviable position. They must figure out how to push hard enough on United to improve service to YVRA without further jeopardizing future incoming passenger seats. We hope they're successful, because the future of sales tax support for the air program, fair or not, might depend on it.