While the three weekly flights to Denver will not in themselves generate large numbers of additional passengers in and out of TEX, the flights are important because they point the way to more additional service, said Scott Stewart, executive director of the Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization.
“We certainly hope Great Lakes will increase its service and that we will be able to continue the additional service this winter,” Stewart said this week.
Continuing the service this winter will be contingent, however, on the outcome of a decision by the Telluride Regional Airport Board of Directors whether or not to extend the airport’s operating hours several hours past dusk in the winter. The airport’s current policy is to operate from dawn to dusk, which permits night flights in summer but not in winter. The proposal to extend the hours has been controversial, with airport neighbors in particular objecting to what they fear will be additional noise and safety impacts.
The TRAA board is scheduled to decide whether to extend the hours to 9 p.m. year-round at a regular board meeting on May 19. That meeting will follow a joint meeting with the San Miguel County Commissioners scheduled for May 11 to discuss how the airport and county will work together, including how the board will address any possible county concerns related to night flights in the winter.
The new flights announced by Great Lakes this week include early morning departures three days a week, on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, starting on June 9. Those flights are possible because flights will arrive at TEX from Denver at 7: 46 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Having arrived in the evening, the plane and crew will overnight in Telluride, making them available for the departure the next morning. The new flights are not being guaranteed or subsidized by the TMRAO, but the organization will be helping to arrange overnight accommodations for flight crews.
The new flights will result in the most summertime commercial air service in and out of Telluride since the summers of 2003 and 2004, which is the last time a plane and crew overnighted in Telluride. Enplanements at Telluride have been dropping every year since the end of that service.
Telluride Regional Airport Authority Board President John Micetic said this week that he asked the president of Great Lakes to commit equipment that has become available due to changing schedules elsewhere to overnight service to Telluride.
“I did this for two reasons,” Micetic said. First was “to get the equipment assigned to Telluride while it was available,” with the possibility that the night flights could be carried through the winter if the airport board votes to extend the airport’s operating hours.
Second, he said, “I felt it was a positive approach to future air transportation needs for this summer and beyond.”
While the number of additional passengers that can be accommodated by the three new flights this summer will be in the hundreds, it could be enough to help the airport meet the threshold of 10,000 enplanements for the year, Stewart said. If the airport were to fall below 10,000, it could face a significant drop in FAA funding.
“I think this is a positive thing,” Micetic said, “because it demonstrates that we can attract commercial service to Telluride.”