Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Officials: LOT key for United flight

San Francisco route to start this winter

Express Staff Writer

    Days after Sun Valley Resort and the nonprofit Fly Sun Valley Alliance announced that United Airlines in December will begin daily, nonstop winter and summer flights between San Francisco and Friedman Memorial Airport, attention is being turned to garnering support for the service.
    Jack Sibbach, marketing and public relations director for Sun Valley Resort, said he hopes the flights will be filled to at least 75 percent of capacity, to ensure that the route is successful and will continue for years to come.
    “It is our responsibility as a community to market these flights,” Sibbach said. “This is a community effort. The next step is the LOT.”
    The LOT referred to by Sibbach is a proposed 1 percent local option tax in the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey to support air service in the Wood River Valley. Funds raised through the proposed tax program—estimated at about $2 million per year—would be used to provide minimum revenue guarantees to airlines to guard against losses from low ticket sales.

It is our responsibility as a community
 to market these flights.”
Jack Sibbach
Sun Valley Resort

    The measure would assess a 1 percent tax on retail sales, ski tickets, restaurant sales, liquor by the drink and lodging. Sun Valley voters approved the measure last fall but Ketchum and Hailey voters did not. Sun Valley has not been collecting the tax because the city’s approval came with a caveat that it would not do so until Ketchum approved the measure. The proposal will again be on ballots in Ketchum and Hailey this fall.
    The once-per-day United Express flights—which will be operated for United by SkyWest Airlines—will use Canadair CRJ 700 regional jets with 66 seats. The service between Friedman and San Francisco International Airport will run daily from Dec. 12 through March 30 for the 2013-14 winter season and from July 2 through Sept. 23 for the 2014 summer season. The flights will offer seats in first class, United Economy Plus and United Economy.
    Eric Seder, president of Fly Sun Valley Alliance, said approval of the LOT is critical to the route’s future. The deal inked with United last week was finalized “with a certain amount of faith that the electorate will do the right thing,” he said.
    Sibbach said the new connection will not only make it easier for people to travel to and from Sun Valley, it will have a positive economic benefit for the entire Wood River Valley community.
    “This is the best economic news we’ve heard in seven or eight years,” he said.
    Carol Waller, director of Fly Sun Valley Alliance, agreed. She said the new flights could bring to the Wood River Valley some 6,000 visitors who could collectively have a $10 million economic impact.
Waller said Sun Valley Resort has “aggressive” plans to market the new San Francisco route, and the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance also plans to include the new flights in its promotions of the resort area.
Pursuant to the one-year contract, the United flights for the upcoming winter ski season will be:

  • Departs SFO at 10:40 a.m. and arrives SUN at 1:22 p.m.
  • Departs SUN at 1:57 p.m. and arrives SFO at 2:54 p.m.

The flights have been loaded into United’s sales system. Waller said United chose the times for the flights to maximize potential for convenient connections to its myriad domestic and international routes.
    The contract includes minimum revenue guarantees for United, which provide for payments to the air carrier if an established revenue threshold is not met during the duration of the contract. Sibbach declined to disclose the amount of the minimum revenue guarantee.
    Rick Baird, manager of Friedman Memorial Airport, said it has been more than 20 years since a new air carrier offered regular service to and from the Wood River Valley. The importance of the San Francisco market, in addition to the large number of connections available through SFO, will benefit people throughout the community, he said.
    “This is going to be huge for locals, huge for second-home owners, and huge for business,” he said.
    Baird said airport officials and Fly Sun Valley Alliance are looking at securing additional air service from other markets. However, without funds for marketing, he said, new routes might not be sustainable.
    “To be successful, you have to market,” he said.
    Baird said the cooperative effort to secure the contract for the flights started in earnest after he and the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority worked in 2012 with the Federal Aviation Administration to get approval for regional jets to fly into Friedman.
    “This is a new partner we’re dancing with,” Baird said. “And, hopefully, we’ll be dancing together for a long, long time.”

Greg Foley:

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