By a considerable margin, 2015-16 was the busiest winter season in Jackson Hole Airport’s history, and officials are now making plans to level off or reduce air traffic in winters to come.
Between December and March people boarded commercial planes at Jackson Hole Airport a record 118,121 times — an increase of nearly 15 percent over the previous winter and 43 percent four winters ago.
“We had a really strong winter,” Jackson Hole Airport Director Jim Elwood said. “I think it’s been a really positive thing — getting air service put in when the community needs it in the wintertime.”
But at the same time, the record season has given cause for pause.
Representatives from Jackson Hole Air Improvement Resources are now asking airlines to consider capping their winter service. This week Elwood and JH AIR’s Mike Gierau and Kari Cooper traveled around the country to visit with Delta, United and American airlines to discuss the matter.
“Maybe this is a year that we should just focus on filling the seats and not ask for a big fat increase,” Gierau said Friday. “We want to be doing it the right way, and the right way isn’t necessarily more, more, more.
“Just adding a bunch of seats might not be the best thing for Jackson Hole right now,” he said.
For JH AIR, trying to limit plane seats and not bothering to seek out new market destinations is a big shift of strategy.
“It’s a world gone nuts, isn’t it,” Gierau said.
With agreements called “minimum revenue guarantees,” the nonprofit organization has historically subsidized airlines to ensure their service through the winter.
The money sent to airlines is contributed by Jackson Hole businesses, typically those that have ties to tourism and rely on winter air traffic.
This winter JH AIR helped facilitate additional flights from Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, New York City and Newark, New Jersey.
The organization forecasted a 15 percent bump in available seats — the same percentage that plane ridership ended up increasing.
JH AIR’s board of directors has given direction to shift some of its focus to working with airlines to smooth over the flight schedule and create a better “customer experience,” Gierau said.
Reducing traffic at the airport on packed Saturdays is one goal, Gierau said. Increasing the percentage of seats that fill is another.
In the longer-term, Elwood said, there’s an interest in adding flights in the spring and fall and creating a flight schedule that’s more broadly based throughout the year.
“But in terms of the core part of the ski season,” Elwood said, “I think the interest is to hold the line or maybe even step back a little bit.”
Gierau said that it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but he believes the airlines had been receptive to JH AIR’s requests.
“I wouldn’t anticipate any startling increases in service from them,” he said.
Looking at the annual numbers, 2015 was the busiest year in the history of Jackson Hole Airport, topping the previous record-holding year — 2014. Nearly 317,000 times, people boarded a commercial jet here.
In 2016, airplane traffic has exceeded 2015 numbers for every month so far.
Original article can be found here: http://www.jhnewsandguide.com