RTA exploring air options sans CBMR
Consultant to discuss possibilities with United
Originally published 2013-02-14
Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) leaders are beginning to explore the possibility of a local airline program that in coming years may not include Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) as a partner.
For years, the RTA and CBMR have joined efforts to cover the cost of “guarantees” — or payments made to airlines to compensate their losses from flying into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport.
Such guarantees have become an accepted practice for getting visitors to resort communities across the country — and was actually pioneered among ski areas by former CBMR co-owner Ralph Walton.
But CBMR leaders have confirmed in recent weeks that amid the ever-increasing cost of payments to the airlines — and struggles to fill planes with guests — they are considering partnering with Telluride Ski and Golf Co. for flights into the Montrose Regional Airport instead.
“If they do decide to focus on Montrose, we want to know what our options are,” said RTA Executive Director Scott Truex.
Airline consultant Kent Myers, of Airplanners, LLC, was directed during Friday’s monthly RTA meeting to explore possibilities with United Airlines, should CBMR’s funding of the local airline program go away.
That could mean an increased level of service from Denver to Gunnison — possibly on a year-round basis.
“What we’re looking at is, what would increasing United service from Denver look like?” said RTA board Chairman Chris Morgan. “CBMR is taking a look at some different options, and so are we.”
In essence, the question is this: If CBMR decides to no longer partner in the local winter airline program, how could the RTA’s money best be used?
“We’re going to ask United, ‘What would year-round service from Denver look like?’” Morgan indicated. “Not because that is the direction that the RTA is pushing, but because we need to know whether United is interested in doing that and what the cost would be.”
In recent years, some local constituents have pushed for a more robust year-round airline program — as opposed to the RTA’s dollars being combined with money from CBMR to pay only for the winter-time flights.
Currently, guarantees are paid to the airlines for flights during the winter. United doesn’t charge for any of its current service from Denver to Gunnison.
At the direction of the RTA board, Myers has sought quotes from United for increasing service from Denver on multiple occasions over the course of the last few years.
Most recently, United indicated that simply offering a second, daily flight from Denver to Gunnison during slower times of the year would cost $1.2 million, said Myers. That’s far more than the RTA currently pays for all of the guarantees for just the winter program.
For example, last winter the RTA committed $420,000, compared to $1.2 million committed mostly by CBMR. While actual payments were less than the total guarantees committed, no one is expecting the cost of the local airline program in coming years to become substantially cheaper.
That’s led CBMR to consider alternatives for boosting skier visits — and by extension, local business in general.
Ethan Mueller, general manager for CBMR, said that talks with Telluride have been ongoing for years — culminating in two new partnerships in recent months. A pass that offers three days of skiing at CBMR and three days at Telluride was launched this season. And this past December, Montrose saw the first flight land on low-cost carrier Allegiant — thanks to a combined effort that includes CBMR and Telluride.
But Mueller stressed that “nothing is concrete” about the latest talks with Telluride, adding that in the next few weeks it will be known whether the new airline partnership is a go.
“This is a bold shift in direction, but by no means are we doing it haphazardly,” he said. “It will be successful because we’re going to make sure it succeeds.”
Montrose sees more direct flights from big cities, Mueller noted, and layovers currently experienced by guests coming from say, Atlanta, to CBMR via the Gunnison airport could simply swapped for a bus ride from Montrose.
For that, Mueller indicated that CBMR is mulling over ideas for making the trip as comfortable and convenient as possible — including cocktails and wi-fi while visitors ride.
If CBMR partners with Telluride, how would resort leaders view the possibility of increased airline service to Gunnison from Denver, paid for by the RTA?
“Quick and bluntly, yes, we’re in full support of more Denver service through Gunnison,” said Mueller.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com)