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Changes in the air

United cuts seats into Hayden, eliminates turboprops

— The frequency of commuter airline seats bound for Hayden this winter took a small hit this week but the local airport gained an all-jet fleet and 42 additional daily seats for its Denver service in the process.

“It’s definitely mixed news,” Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said.

The changes on the Denver/Hayden route are just a small part of a major overhaul United is making to its schedule. The airline is shooting for a 23 percent reduction in its seats as it reacts to decreased demand for air travel since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The schedule changes mean the daily number of inbound seats from Denver will increase from 426 on seven daily roundtrips to 468 seats on five daily roundtrips, a net increase of 42 inbound seats.

That gain in seats translates into 294 seats a week. Based on a 16-week winter airline season, that’s an increase of 4,704 inbound seats from Denver.

The primary change centers around the elimination of the 32-passenger Dornier turboprop from the Hayden route. The airplanes were previously scheduled to make four daily roundtrips. Wirth said United shifted the Dorniers to routes flown out of its Chicago hub.

In their stead, Air Wisconsin, flying as United Express, will increase the frequency of its operations using the 86-passenger British Aerospace 146, from two daily roundtrips to four. The BAE 146 is a small jet.

Wirth said the increase inbound seats is enhanced by the benefits of an all-jet fleet. The BAE-146 is better equipped to haul the added luggage that vacationing skiers bring with them to Steamboat. And the flying public, already jittery, has a higher level of comfort flying in jets rather than turboprops.

In another change that won’t have much noticeable impact on levels of service. United announced it would replace a planned single daily roundtrip to Hayden using a Boeing 737-300 with service on an Airbus 319. The airbus jet carries 124 passengers compared to the 737-300’s capacity of 126 passengers.

Other Colorado ski destinations saw changes to their airline service this week as well.

The “Aspen Daily” newspaper reported this week that United Express will cut three daily flights between Aspen and Denver during the coming ski season, reducing seat inventory by more than 1,800 a week.

United Express will also cut one flight daily from Denver to Eagle County Airport, which serves Vail and Beaver Creek. United will cut weekend service to Eagle from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York’s LaGuardia. Those flights feed Aspen as well as Vail and Beaver Creek.

Wirth said he believes Aspen will be able to sustain the loss of commuter flights without much difficulty because it already enjoyed high frequency of flights.

He reiterated that Steamboat’s direct flights from cities like Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Newark, are safe from airline cuts because Steamboat has signed contracts that guarantee minimum revenues.

“I’m disappointed they lost the flights from every perspective,” Wirth said. “It shows that with airline guarantees like we have, you’re much more in control of your own destiny.”

This week marked the second time this fall Steamboat has lost seats in its anticipated winter schedule.

A scheduled Saturday flight from Raleigh/Durham, N.C. disappeared from the boards when Midway airlines ceased operations shortly after it filed for bankruptcy. The weekly flight represented 2,040 inbound seats.


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