ALAMOSA — Business at the San Luis Valley Regional Airport is better than ever before, but it could improve. As of the end of August, Boutique Air saw 4,337 outbound passengers, also known as enplanements, for 2017. In 2015 Great Lakes Airlines had a total of 3,104 enplanements.
Yet, Alamosa County hopes to one day see 10,000 annual enplanements.
Funding from the Federal Aviation Administration jumps from $150,000 a year to $1 million if that magic number is reached. SLV Regional Airport Manager Dustin Allinger and the new airport advisory board identified the leg to Albuquerque as a major hindrance to their goal.
“There’s a 40 percent load factor for Albuquerque legs,” said Allinger during the board’s first meeting in November. That means three passengers out of the eight are going to Albuquerque. On the Denver side, things are closer to about 70 percent on average.”
Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that there is only one flight to Albuquerque on weekday’s versus Denver’s three. It was discussed in November of possibly cutting the Albuquerque leg and doing another to Denver since the current return flight has an unfavorable arrival time of 11:30 p.m. However, the board would rather make it more convenient for both destinations instead of eliminating flights.
“Every other kid I meet at Adams State University seems to be from Arizona,” said board member Donna Wehe. “It’s just amazing how many people would love to fly to Albuquerque to connect to some of the southwest flights. But it’s so inconvenient with it not flying on the weekend. How are you going to get it over 40 percent without offering what people need?”
Another complication is that the Department of Transportation limits the airport to 24 subsidized flights a week. Since Boutique’s Pilatus PC-12 carries only eight passengers that means the airport can’t have more than 9,984 enplanements a year unless something changes.
In the meantime the board wants to raise awareness of the Albuquerque flight and Boutique Air in general. The airline has a yearly marketing budget of $20,000 to spend in the San Luis Valley so at a special meeting on Monday the board introduced themselves to the Boutique Air marketing team via a teleconference to discuss promotion. Adams State University Marketing Professor Liz Thomas Hensley also joined the meeting for brainstorming.
Aside from a handful of sponsorships, the only advertising Boutique Air has been paying for since January are radio spots—but none of the board members have heard them.
“I live in Forbes and you don’t get a radio signal until you come down into Fort Garland,” said board member Michael Rohr on Monday. “You don’t get a cell signal up there either.”
“After having been in radio for several years, I know that the ad makes a difference,” added board member Randy Wright. “You can have someone running 50 ads a week and it doesn’t work because you’re running the wrong ad.”
Hensley brought up more visible approaches like a billboard on the highway or newspaper advertisements along with having members of Boutique Air be present at local events, such as Summerfest, to give out tickets.
“First of all, people like free giveaways,” said Hensley. “But on top of it is the idea that we get a bunch of names and addresses for future marketing. That’s a great way to gather emails and contacts of people who may not already be flying with Boutique.”
Hensley also mentioned having an intern from ASU help out to connect the San Francisco-based business with the Valley as much as possible to make it successful.
“Without good commercial air service to a community you don’t have economic development,” Wright added. “It’s almost as simple as that...Who knows where this thing could go commercially. I think our dreams are kind of small right now compared to where we can be.”