A recent Letter to the Editor commented on the need to increase commercial air service into Telluride. The Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization (TMRAO) agrees and has diligently pursued all airlines that have equipment qualified to fly scheduled commercial service into the Telluride Airport. Increasing air service into Telluride is a top priority for our organization. The great news is that with the continued airport improvements and advances in technology we will soon be able to better court airlines to provide this service. Convincing the airlines to operate in this environment is a challenging task but TMRAO has multiple strategies in place to lure more service to Telluride.
For the last five years, very few airlines have had aircraft qualified to fly into the Telluride Airport. For those airlines that do have qualified aircraft most of their planes were committed to other more dependable and profitable markets. Reasonable revenue guarantees have been offered and in some cases accepted to gain service to Telluride but during these challenging times many of the airlines are cutting back and reducing service and using the aircraft qualified for Telluride for what they perceive as more profitable routes.
Over the last three years over 100 small communities, most with a population much larger than Telluride have lost air service. Many have lost ALL their commercial air service. It is only very recently that due to major airlines changes in operating partners and industry consolidation that a few qualified aircraft (Dash 8) have possibly become available. (Many of the communities who have lost service will be vying for these aircraft). Dash 8 aircraft are the 37 passenger turbo props used by US Airways for their flights from Phoenix. TMRAO acquired this service in 2004 via guarantee agreements which will operate again this winter. The Dash 7 aircraft which flew many of the seats into Telluride in the 1990’s doesn’t even fly commercially anymore.
Great Lakes operating as Frontier and United Express provide our Denver service. Great Lakes in the past three years took on many governments subsidized and mandated Essential Air Service markets. Due to the number of these markets Great Lakes has pulled aircraft (Beachcraft 1900) from Telluride to meet its government contract flying obligations. Great Lakes has committed to adding equipment in the next one to three years to bring back up the level of service to Telluride, however it may be a gradual rebuilding. With this less than desirable environment, TMRAO is proactively searching for other alternatives to improve the capacity and frequency for the Telluride to Denver route.
TMRAO is excited about the improvements at the Telluride Airport. When the work is complete the runways design category will change from a B-III to a D-III. This increases the types of aircraft that qualify to fly to Telluride and therefore improves TMRAO’s chances of acquiring additional service to Telluride. Until that time the region’s air organization will continue with its priority of aggressively pursuing all economically feasible opportunities to improve our air service.
TMRAO is an economic development organization focused on bringing in visiting guests to the region. Both the service to the Telluride and Montrose Airports are successful with this as 82 percent and 80 percent of its winter passengers respectively are overnight visitors who are not full-time locals or part-time residents. Seventy percent and 75 percent of Telluride and Montrose Airport winter flyers are coming for downhill skiing/snowboarding. Contrary to the perception of some in the public only a small portion of visitors using the flights are going to Crested Butte, 1 percent of Telluride guests and 4 percent of Montrose guest flyers.
TMRAO is an organization that acts publicly and encourages public attendance at our regular monthly meetings. We believe strongly in sharing whatever information is not classified as confidential in our airline agreements with the public and deeply desires to keep our communities informed of our priorities, strategies and results. TMRAO posts meeting date/time and location information in the local papers and welcomes the community’s participation.
– Tom Hess, President, Telluride/Montrose Regional Air Organization