Montrose adds flights to Phoenix, Bay area

The Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization is betting heavy that droves of Arizonans and San Franciscans will want to come to the Western Slope to play in the snow.

With help from Telluride Ski Resort, Mountain Village and the cities of Montrose and Telluride, the organization has gathered thousands of dollars and a lot of chutzpah and entered into a risk-reward contract with Allegiant Air for twice-weekly service this winter into Montrose Regional Airport.

If the number of fliers from Oakland International and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airports come as expected, not only will area hotels, restaurants and other businesses benefit from the increased tourism, but the organization could share in some of the discount airline’s profits in getting them here.

If not, the organization will have to cover some of the airline’s expenses, said Scott Stewart, executive director of the organization.

“This is a game-changing opportunity,” Stewart said. “We have a strong history with the Phoenix service ... and there’s a strong skier population that lives in the San Francisco Bay area. I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble hitting our target.”

Since last winter, when US Airways ended its flights between Montrose and Phoenix because it switched to larger planes, the organization has been looking for ways to replace air service there and expand to other West Coast destinations.

Non-stop flights to Las Vegas and Los Angeles with Allegiant were already taken at Grand Junction Regional Airport, so the organization started to look elsewhere, Stewart said.

“There’s a good role for both airports in the region,” he said. “Our airport is more leisure traveler-oriented with about 70 percent of our traffic in-bound. Whereas, you (Grand Junction) have probably more of an even split.”

But while Grand Junction’s air market can sustain itself, an airport that’s predominately dependent on in-bound traffic requires more work, Stewart said.

That’s why the organization, which already is partly funded by local governments, asked for a little more to make this deal work.

With the local governments kicking in about $100,000 each, and the ski resort twice that much, the organization and the airline plan to heavily advertise in Phoenix and San Francisco to tell skiers about the low-cost flights, he said.

Round-trip flights, beginning in mid-December, will be $166 to Phoenix and $226 to Oakland.

While the bulk of the new service’s clientele likely will be skiers headed to Telluride, the rest of the Western Slope also could benefit having the new service, too, said Diane Schwenke, executive director of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Not only will the expanded service translate into new places for area residents to go, but also provide more competition to help reduce ticket costs at other airlines that serve the region, she said.

“Allegiant obviously has found a market in Grand Junction with the Vegas and Los Angeles flights, and having them come into the Montrose market just gives everybody more opportunities,” she said. “Overall, when any airline makes an announcement to come into any airport in western Colorado, it gets the attention of the other players, and that overall is good for us.”

For now, the new Montrose flights will be from Dec. 15 to April 3, though Stewart said a decision to extend that later in the spring will be made in January.

If the service proves to be profitable for the airline, and sustainable over a couple of years, Stewart hopes to extend the organization’s contract with the airline to provide summer service as well.

“The buzz is really strong and people do see that this can really be a powerful thing for our region,” said Stewart, who also hopes to pull Crested Butte Mountain Resort into the mix. “We think we’re going to find additional funds so we can give this the best shot at working as possible.”


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