The move by US Airways means that the Telluride Regional Airport will lose approximately 3,500 passenger seats during the winter season.
US Airway’s decision to pull the service comes after one of its air service contractors terminated an agreement to serve US Airway flights in the East, effectively forcing the carrier to shift aircraft that would have served the Telluride Regional Airport to another portion of the country. Those East Coast markets are tied to US Airways bond issues, which make these markets a priority for air service over Telluride.
TMRAO Executive Director Scott Stewart said on Wednesday that both the air organization and US Airways are disappointed to stop the service as it has done “particularly well” over the past couple of years.
“First and foremost, we need to try to regain the seats that will be lost with that service not happening ,” Stewart said. “The decision had nothing to do with Telluride, our relationship with US Airways or how our air service performed. The decision was solely based on an unexpected issue in some other US Airways markets that required the pulling of the Dash 8 aircraft to address that issue.”
Stewart emphasized that the decision was in no way related to TMRAO’s current fundraising effort and that the US Airways will remain a partner in bringing air service to TEX as soon as possible.
“In the long term, they are working with us,” he said. “They are presently working with operations on a couple of different aircraft types that might qualify for getting into Telluride. They are working with us. Right now, there is not going to be any service from Phoenix this winter but I believe there will be service in the long term.”
The effects of the US Airways decision could be painfully felt both in Telluride’s tourist-based winter economy and possibly at the airport, where a minimum number of commercial enplanements are needed to qualify for federal funding. Already, Stewart and the TMRAO are working to find ways to make up for the lost US Airways seats with less than 90 days before the start of the winter season. Stewart said the organization is actively pursuing service through a variety of avenues for this season and have found early success in gaining additional flights between Denver and Montrose from January to March, 2012. But those flights don't benefit TEX however. The new United flights, which should be in the booking system by Oct. 1, do replace about 75 percent of the seat loss to the region from the US Airways flight cancellation.
“Because we were able to find replacement service and seats by United to Montrose, we are about 1,000 seats down,” Stewart said. “We are working with Great Lakes and working to fill some of that loss into Telluride as well and we still have the possibility of another carrier out there that may offer some service. It’s a long shot but we are working on it.”
Furthermore, Stewart said, the US Airways decision is a reflection of the changing environment for the entire airline industry.
“The airline business is one of the most complicated businesses out there and therefore it’s not easy to get quick decisions on operating to Telluride or any airport,” he said. “Since typically 70 percent or more of the passengers on flights are connecting passengers, it’s critical that operators have ticketing and baggage and other arrangements in place at the hub airports to have the ability to gain a critical mass of passengers connecting from other flights.
“Additional hurdles include meeting the service, experience and cost expectations of our guests," Stewart explained. "It’s difficult enough to gain service at the Telluride Airport due to its extremely high elevation and how this affects commercial aircraft performance and it’s even more difficult with a short time window. We’re doing everything we can as quickly as we can to try to replace our service loss at the Telluride Airport.”
The Telluride Regional Airport receives $1 million in federal funding each year if the airport breaks the 10,000 enplanement mark. Last year, the airport did not reach the 10,000 mark, said Telluride Regional Airport Authority Chairman John Micetic, and the dropped service from Phoenix will make reaching that mark this year even harder.
“To us, [losing the US Airways flight] was a bombshell,” Micetic said on Wednesday. “If we stay positive, though, we are going to recover most of those potential seats that were lost. Our number one concern is what this will do to this community’s economy. Anytime you lose service, it hurts.”
While the loss is a “major concern,” Micetic went on to say that he feels confident the airport will reach 10,000 enplanements this year through Great Lakes.
The possibility that TEX may not see 10,000 enplanements comes after multi-million dollar capital improvement projects including a runway expansion that’s intended to make the airport safer and easier for commercial service. Micetic said losing federal funding because of declining enplanements would hold back future capital improvement projects.
“If we don’t get the federal money, it means we can’t spend money on the capital improvements we still need,” he said. “We have constantly tried to strengthen the commercial service into the airport and some of these project would have to be put on hold.”