Republic Airlines keeps Aspen passengers waiting | AspenTimes.com

Republic Airlines keeps Aspen passengers waiting

The last time Republic Airlines didn't have a delayed departure from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport was Sept. 26. Since then, passengers have been enduring delays for as long as 400 minutes.

Since Sept. 27, 15 of the carrier's 44 outbound flights — or 34 percent — were late leaving Aspen, according to FlightStats.com. In contrast, 25 percent of all commercial flights departing Aspen were late for the first seven months of the year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The national average was 20 percent.

The head of the Aspen airport has taken notice.

"We're receiving more and more complaints to the director's office regarding the lack of predictability by Republic," said John Kinney, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

Friday was the tipping point. That day, the Indianopolis-based regional carrier experienced three delays ranging from 75 minutes to six hours.

Saturday saw one delay and one cancellation, Sunday had three delays, Monday had one, Tuesday saw three — including one for 140 minutes — and Wednesday saw two.

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"We'll be reaching out to Republic," Kinney said. "We're asking them to review their data and start giving us some answers about why they are having a hard time. The prices are high at this airport, and people have an expectation that their service is going to be predictable."

Republic offers four of the six daily flights between Aspen and Denver through a code-share agreement with United Airlines.

Passengers take the Bombardier Q400, which has a maximum seating capacity of roughly 70.

"I'm not going to speak on behalf of Republic, but they're the only airline that has come out and publicly stated that they have a real pilot shortage," said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations firm; Tomcich also is Aspen's liaison to commercial airlines. "And the pilot shortage is affecting the entire industry."

On Monday, Delta Airlines sued Republic in Atlanta, claiming that its code-share partner didn't honor its flight schedule with Delta Connection, according to published reports. Republic, which denied breaching the contract with Delta, has said it has scaled back its service with its regional affiliates because of both a shortage of and labor dispute with its pilots, The Associated Press reported.

"In terms of top-tier difficult areas, the Aspen airport ranks as one of the most difficult," said Scott Thien, spokesman for Republic Airlines. "But I'm not saying that's the reason for the delays."

On Wednesday night, Republic Vice President of Flight Operations Pat Gannon offered a prepared statement about the Aspen situation:

"While Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is one of the more challenging municipal airports to fly in and out of, Republic Airways takes great pride in our on-time performance record. We are looking into the situation to see if there is indeed a root cause for the recent delays at (the airport). While weather can often be cited as a cause, there are other systemic issues that we must explore, as well. All pilots who fly in and out of (the Aspen airport) require special certification, and we work diligently with United to help ensure safe and pleasurable travel for all passengers despite these challenges. If the problem is systemic and something we can indeed improve on, those changes will be made."

Tomcich said that although Republic has had departure issues, it still completed 144 of its 147 scheduled flights in September. SkyWest Airlines, which also flies for United, completed all of its Aspen-to-Denver flights last month, he said.

Tomcich, however, didn't sugarcoat Republic's service woes.

"From my dialogues with my counterparts at other ski resorts, there is a lot of frustration with Republic's reliability and frequency," he said.

Aspen's winter schedule hasn't been announced yet, but Tomcich said Republic has a greater frequency of local flight service in the summer and offseasons.

Kinney said the delays have caused passengers to miss connections, which has raised their ire because of their high expectations.

"It's a little disheartening and frustrating for passengers," Kinney said. "And that's unfortunate when you have an airport of this caliber. If you pay a high rate and you're not sure you're going to get out, that's a very frustrating experience."

Last week also saw one canceled Republic flight and another one diverted to Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden because of an engine failure.

Aspen resident Bob Morris, who was aboard the Sept. 30 diverted trip, United flight 4919, said the pilot "did a spectacular job of landing."

The flight was diverted after one of the engines in the twin-turboprop aircraft failed.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com