Air-taxi service taking off
GYPSUM — A local aviation entrepreneur is launching the region’s first air-taxi service.
Loren French, president of Alpine Flight, started transporting passengers this week after receiving his Federal Aviation Administration approval Friday afternoon.
“There’s no shortage of charters, but it’s luxury aviation, not utility aviation,” French said. “This new service is unique in this market.”
The only other air-taxi service in the region operates out of Telluride. In Eagle County, ATI Jet charters a Learjet out of the Eagle County Regional Airport.
“There are many charter options for jet and large turbo-prop aircraft, but smaller aircraft that offer excellent value has not been commonly available,” French said.
Making flying efficient
Alpine Flight’s taxi services are based at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
French said Alpine Flight’s on-demand air-taxi service provides fast and easy access between nearly any two of Colorado’s 79 public airports in Colorado and surrounding states.
“This service is all about making travel efficient by flying direct between the airports that are closest,” French said.
Airline transport rated
Governments move slowly, and it took French 18 months to get the service off the ground, including the FAA air-carrier approval he needed. French is an Airline Transport-rated pilot.
During the past five years, small-aircraft air-taxi services have grown quickly along the East Coast.
“Our goal is to bring those same benefits to the central Rockies,” French said. “We’re excited to see the market demand for this new service and plan to expand our fleet as demand warrants.”
Teach me to fly
A few years back, French bought a two-seat plane to teach his children to fly. Soon, other people called asking him to teach them to fly, too. He added a four-seat aircraft to fly the family around, and when the family outgrew that, he added a Piper Seneca, a six-seat plane he uses to fly people with the Alpine Flight air taxi.
The Piper Seneca is a six-passenger, twin-engine aircraft known for its safety, performance and economical operation. At 200 mph, Point A to Point B doesn’t take long — especially because you’re flying above congestion and road construction.
Then there are the vast distances across Colorado’s Western Slope and surrounding states. For example, it’s six hours to drive from the Eagle County Regional Airport to Durango.
Traveling on a commercial air service takes the same five to six hours when you include the connections and time dealing with lines and airport security.
French said Alpine Flight air taxi can make that same trip in one hour, turning what could be a three-day trip into one day.
“For a professional, this is a game-changer — it’s the ability to depart in the morning, conduct your business and return the same day,” French said.
A flight to Aspen on Tuesday morning from Gypsum took 15 minutes and was 26 miles as the Piper Seneca flies.
Priced per trip
Pricing is straightforward. You pay per trip, not per passenger, and you depart when it suits you, French said, not when an airline schedule says you must.
The Piper Seneca’s range on one tank of fuel is about 800 miles. French will fly as far as you want, but you have to stop in Aberdeen, South Dakota, or somewhere else for fuel, where they’ll probably be so happy you’re there they’ll give you snacks.
By the way, the cookies at the Vail Valley Jet Center, where Alpine Flight is headquartered, are outstanding.
Alpenglow over the Gore
In addition to air-taxi and charter services, Alpine Flight provides flight instruction and scenic air tours.
“You think alpenglow is great on a deck in Vail — imagine alpenglow from 12,000 feet and you can see the entire Gore Range,” French said.
Alpine Flight has been around since 2006, originally founded as a flight school providing initial training for private pilots. Training quickly expanded to include instrument and commercial pilot training and aircraft rental.
In 2012, Alpine Flight received authorization from the FAA to offer scenic air tours over the Vail Valley and Roaring Fork Valley.
Last week’s certification makes Alpine Flight a Part 135 air carrier, authorized to conduct on-demand air taxi and charter operations.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.
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Vail broke the $200 lift ticket barrier during the holidays last winter. Aspen hasn’t topped the $200 mark yet, but both resorts are raising their peak prices this season.