By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BOZEMAN – City slickers rejoice – cowboys, Yellowstone National Park and big browns are only a flight away, even on Sundays.
The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport announced in early February it will expand its nonstop service from New York/Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) for summer 2013, doubling the service. Saturday flights will operate June 22 through Aug. 31, and Sunday flights June 30 through Aug. 25.
Starting last June, United Airlines offered the service on Saturdays through Sept. 1. The flight is also being run this winter, Dec. 22, through March 30. Approximately 2,600 passengers used the flight last summer and an estimated 2,900 will use the flight this winter, according to BZN Airport Director Brian Sprenger. That’s 80 percent full or better, Sprenger said.
“We were hoping for 80 percent. United was expecting about 40 percent, but we were much more optimistic.”
The Bozeman Chamber of Commerce, Big Sky Resort, Moonlight Basin and the Yellowstone Club, in conjunction with a Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Grant, help fund the flights.
The community and the grant could have been responsible for up to $610,000 toward insuring that the flight didn’t lose money for United, Sprenger said. Because of the flight’s success, however, the groups only paid 20-25 percent of that guarantee.
“We felt it was a relatively safe bet to expand it to include Sundays this summer,” Sprenger said.
Brandon Bang, Big Sky Resort’s Director of Sales, says the expansion is proof United recognizes the success of this flight.
“If the airline can see after two or three years that this is a successful flight and it’s profitable, then we can move on and try to find the next city,” Bang said, meaning the resorts could step away from funding the flight.
The winter EWR-BZN flight, which runs Saturdays through March, will be up for review in April.
“As long as winter continues to go at the pace that it is, I see that (extending the service to Sundays) as being a likely outcome,” Bang said.
Since adding the flight, the resort has seen an uptick in business from that area, Bang said, “but it’s hard to say how many wouldn’t have come [anyway] without that flight.”
Passenger numbers at the Bozeman airport have grown by 9 percent overall in the last 12 monthsyear, orby 17,000 passengers total, boarding or deplaning there. United also operates year round service between Bozeman and Denver, with seasonal service to Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.