United Airlines accelerates plans to change express carrier in Denver; affects Yampa Valley airport | SteamboatToday.com

United Airlines accelerates plans to change express carrier in Denver; affects Yampa Valley airport

In other airline program business

In other business, the LMD Board also agreed informally not to spend $25,000 in LMD funds approved by the Steamboat Springs City Council in a split vote Sept. 15 for public education about the tax-supported flight program and its cost effectiveness. The board had sought to spend $50,000 in that effort, but its members agreed this week that the lengthy council discussion marked by strongly differing opinions, suggested that they find ways to accomplish their educational goals without spending LMD funds.

Airline Program Director Janet Fischer also reported that the summer United Express flight from Houston, boosted from four operations weekly in 2014, to a daily daily schedule in summer 2015, performed well, with passenger numbers a little more than double those of 2014.

— As airline officials in Steamboat Springs prepare for the busy winter resort season at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, the future of airline service from the local airport to Denver beyond late March 2016 is up in the air.

Republic Airlines operates the Denver/YVRA route as United Express with the 71-passenger Q400 turboprop. However, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Airline Program Director Janet Fischer told members of the Local Marketing District board of directors Friday that United Airlines has moved up the date it will cease using Republic at its major hubs, including Denver.

The change at Denver International Airport was previously expected to take place in the third quarter of 2016, but Fischer has learned that date has been advanced to late in the first quarter of the new year. That could conceivably mean Republic would leave the Steamboat market while ski season is still underway in late March.

“So, sometime in March, there are some unknowns here,” Fischer said. “I don’t have information on what (the flights) would be replaced with regarding the carrier or aircraft.”

In addition, Fischer said, she has learned from monitoring United’s flight schedules that the airline pulled a relative handful of flights from the Denver/YVRA route in January and February 2015.

Steamboat Today reported in May that Republic Airlines was planning to retire the Q400, along with its 50-passenger jets, by the end of September 2016.

YVRA Director Kevin Booth told the LMD board he had previously learned from United officials of plans to replace the Q400 with newer, more cost-effective Embraer jets, though he hasn’t seen confirmation of aircraft purchases. Delta flights from Minneapolis on Delta Airlines in ski season 2014-2015 used the 76-passenger Embraer-175 and occasionally, the 70-passenger Embraer-170, Booth confirmed. American, on its flights from Chicago, flew the E-175.

The E-175 resembles a smaller version of a Boeing 737, with an engine under each wing as opposed to twin engines in the tail, such as most regional jets have.

Booth said he learned during a recent convention for Colorado airport operators that a national shortage of pilots is becoming an increasingly difficult problem for commuter airlines such as Republic.

“A lot of pilots (beginning their careers) are now faced with FAA requirements that they log 1,500 hours (of flight time) before they can sit in the right (copilot’s) seat,” Booth said. “That takes a lot of time, and then, you have to work your way up from low paying commuter airlines. A lot of people are choosing not to go down that road.”

Compounding the pilot shortage, Booth added, is the fact that the military is reducing (flight school) graduation rates, which also reduces the number of experienced pilots entering commercial aviation.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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