Wednesday, February 5, 2014

United commits to seasonal Denver flights

Regional jet service to Friedman set to start July 2

Express Staff Writer

The seasonal United flights between Hailey and Denver this coming summer will be on Canadair regional jets, like this CRJ 700 that United has been using on its Hailey to San Francisco route. Photo by Roland Lane

    Officials from the nonprofit Fly Sun Valley Alliance, Friedman Memorial Airport and Sun Valley Resort announced Monday that United Airlines this summer will offer daily, nonstop flights between Denver and the Hailey airport.
    The seasonal United Express flights will operate once per day between the two cities from July 2 through Aug. 25, and then will operate five times per week from Aug. 26 through Sept. 23. The flights will be operated for United Express by Utah-based SkyWest Airlines using 70-seat Canadair CRJ 700 regional jets, the same aircraft United Express uses for its new flight route between Hailey and San Francisco. The flights will offer seats in first class, United Economy Plus and United Economy.
    Carol Waller, director of the Fly Sun Valley Alliance, said that because Denver International Airport is a major hub for United, the new service will give travelers from a variety of markets easier access to the Wood River Valley and Sun Valley Resort. At the same time, valley residents and business operators will have better access to destinations across the country, she said.
    “It’s not Denver as a market per se, but a direct connection to the East Coast,” Waller said. “The New York area is a strong market in this valley.”
    Jack Sibbach, marketing and public relations director for Sun Valley Resort, said the Denver connection will also provide notably easier access to Sun Valley for people in Texas, a major market targeted by many mountain resorts in the West.
    United has agreed to provide the service in a contract that will assure the airline minimum-revenue guarantees if ticket sales do not meet an established target. The contract provides for the flights to be operated this summer only, but negotiations are under way to establish the service for the 2014-2015 winter season.
    Rick Baird, manager of Friedman Memorial Airport, said United often negotiates seasonal contracts “one season at a time.”

It’s huge, not only for this valley, but for the state of Idaho as a whole.”
Rick Baird
Friedman Memorial Airport

    “It’s huge, not only for this valley, but for the state of Idaho as a whole,” Baird said.
    Vic Kerckhoff, director of leisure sales for United, said: “We are pleased to be expanding our service to the Sun Valley market and look forward to a long-term, successful partnership with this important decision.”
    Financial support for the contract is coming from a $500,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant made to Friedman Memorial Airport last fall. The grant—made through the government’s Small Communities Air Service Development Program—was given to the airport specifically to improve air service between Friedman and the East Coast.
    The Fly Sun Valley Alliance—which works to maintain and improve commercial air service to the valley—said the flight schedule has been structured to take full advantage of connections from all major markets in the East. The schedule will be:
 Departs Denver at 7:15 p.m. and arrives at Friedman at 9:03 p.m. (The jet will stay overnight in Hailey.)
 Departs Friedman at 7:30 a.m. and arrives in Denver at 9:11 a.m.
    The new route represents 5,500 additional seats into Friedman for the 2014 summer season.
    Eric Seder, board president of the Fly Sun Valley Alliance, and Sibbach both said community support for commercial air service played a role in the negotiations. Voters in Hailey and Ketchum approved in November a 1 percent local-option tax on some items and services to support commercial flights into Friedman. Sun Valley voters approved the tax in 2012.
    Revenues from the tax are not being applied to the Denver contract for summer flights. However, Sibbach said the LOT indicates an ongoing commitment from valley citizens to commercial air service from various hubs in the West. A board will decide in the future how and when to allocate revenues from the LOT. If the Denver route continues, LOT dollars could be used to support future contracts, if necessary.
    “The LOT being passed really got us to this point,” Sibbach said. “The public vote really helped.”
    Sun Valley Resort and the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance have plans to market the new Denver route, Sibbach said. Nonetheless, he said, the future success of the route will also depend on valley citizens using the flights, not only tourists.
    “To be successful, it needs marketing and needs locals to use it,” he said. “We encourage them to check fares from here first.”
    The new service from Denver adds to a recent string of successes scored by the partnership of the Fly Sun Valley Alliance, the resort and the airport. United Express commenced in December seasonal nonstop service between Friedman and San Francisco. In January, Delta—in partnership with SkyWest—started using regional jets for its daily flights to and from Salt Lake City, replacing older, noisier turboprop airplanes.
    “Our community has shown its support for improving air service and we are getting results,” Seder said.
Greg Foley:

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