Friday, July 8, 2011

SkyWest cuts Sun Valley flights

Airline says reduction meets demand

Express Staff Writer

Utah-based SkyWest Airlines plans to cut its number of flights to and from Friedman Memorial Airport this fall. Photo by Mountain Express

Fall slack will become even slower at Friedman Memorial Airport, due to a reduction in the number of SkyWest flights between Salt Lake City and Hailey this year.

SkyWest Airlines, the Delta Airlines partner that provides commercial service to the airport, announced last week that it will reduce the number of daily round-trip flights in October and November to match anticipated demand.

"You're looking at four daily round trips in October and November," said airline spokeswoman Marissa Snow. "Ordinarily, we would have been at five all winter long."

"There's a tendency to be down about this, but I'm going to try to be upbeat," said airport Manager Rick Baird during Tuesday's meeting of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority. "It is a significant drop in seats that are available."

Snow said the airline is not responding to a drop in demand, but adjusting its schedule to match existing demand.

"It's part of an ongoing evaluation of all of our markets," she said. "This [schedule] better matches the demand."

That demand has been dropping in recent years, though, Snow said, especially in October and November. Skyrocketing fuel prices have made it especially important for the airline to make sure that the number of flights it operates out of the airport does not exceed the demand for seats.

"What's important to note is the volatility of fuel prices," Snow said. "With the seasonality in Sun Valley, we're better matching the frequency to demand so that the flight is still economically feasible."

"They have to be able to make money," Baird said.

Baird added that SkyWest flights will now be flying at 75 percent full, a percentage that could jump to 85 percent if the economy begins to recover and demand increases.

"That seems like a very high percentage, [but] I think it is consistent with other airlines," he said.

However, he added, he had concerns that some clients might not be able to get seats on more popular flights, such as those on Mondays or Thursdays.

"We have very specific times when demand is high," he said. "We would have people who want to get here who have to come through Boise."

Snow said the airline has the ability to adjust to any increases in demand, and will continue to evaluate the Sun Valley market.

"We have a flexible fleet and a flexible workforce," Snow said. "Within six months, tops, we could evaluate and adjust."

The delay would be to make sure any spikes are long-standing changes rather than anomalies, Snow added.

Baird said the good news is that the adjustments being made by the airline to ensure that its flights to Sun Valley remain profitable means it's planning to stay in the valley for the long term.

"This is a way to solidify their service to this community," he said. "This is truly an attempt to make sure their service sticks around."

Snow declined to comment on the validity of Baird's statement or anticipated future demand.

"That's clearly up to the market," she said. "We're hopeful it will remain as strong as ever in Sun Valley."

Katherine Wutz:

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