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Carrier’s staff shortage triggers delays

Problems could last until March for Republic Airlines

To all the fliers who have complained about an increase in cancellations and delays on flights to and from Durango-La Plata County Airport, the airport’s Deputy Director of Aviation Don Brockus would like to say, “You’re right.”

The cause for the increase primarily falls on the shoulders of Republic Airlines and the company’s decision to take on extra route responsibilities without having crews to man those flights.

Republic is one of three carriers that operates aircraft under the United Express banner at the Durango-La Plata County airport.

Crew shortages on Republic flights were the main cause of a twofold increase in delays and cancellations on United Express flights between October and December, said Jodi Doney, the Skywest/United Express Station Manager during a January presentation to the Durango-La Plata County Airport Commission. Controllable delays rose from 16 percent to 32 percent from October to December while controllable cancellations jumped from 2.5 percent to 5.6 percent, Doney told the commission.

“They’re spreading themselves fairly thin,” she said of the airline.

Republic’s problems are rooted in the carrier’s decision to take on another contract with United Express that was previously held by Colgan Air. Colgan was phased out of operation in September after its parent company, Pinnacle Airlines Corp., filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection in April 2012 .

According to a May news release, Republic purchased about 30 aircraft from Colgan Air and began operating the planes in August. The transition went smoothly at first, but as Republic took on additional routes to places such as Gunnison, Grand Junction and Eagle, the company fell behind on hiring and training crews to staff the new aircraft and fly the new routes, Doney said.

The problem probably won’t start to improve until March, Doney said.

“Hopefully, they will start to recover by our spring break,” she said.

Calls made to Republic Airlines for comment were not returned.

Despite the hassles for La Plata County fliers, Brockus complimented Republic Airlines and United Express for relaying information about the cause of recent delays and cancellations.

“It was a really unique and refreshingly honest response,” he said. “Usually airlines are pretty tight with information.”

Expressjet and Skywest also operate aircraft flying in and out of La Plata County under the United Express label, but the “vast majority” of significant nonweather-related issues were on flights operated by Republic Airplanes, Brockus said.

Airline flight ratings bear out that statement. Between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15, almost 70 percent of the flights from Denver to Durango operated by Republic were rated poor or very poor based on on-time performance, while 19 percent of those operated by Skywest and 28 percent operated by ExpressJet were poor or very poor, according the website flightstats.com.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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