As of the end of September, Commercial Air Traffic at Mammoth Yosemite Airport is down 30 percent from the same date in 2013. A lot could happen in the next three months to change that, but our current 18,419 enplanements is the least commercial air traffic the airport has seen since its opening year in 2010.
“I’m as confused as anyone else as to why summer numbers are off the charts for visitation, TBID, and TOT, and yet air traffic has not grown,” said Mammoth Lakes Tourism (MLT) Executive Director John Urdi. In the winter months, Mammoth Yosemite Airport has become notorious for delays and cancelations due to bad weather. Delays due to weather are infrequent during the summer months, and yet air traffic has plateaued. Urdi speculated that summer visitors are more cost-conscious than winter visitors, travel with more gear, and may want to drive from major cities so they can access the disparate recreation opportunities the area provides in the summer. Winter visitors tend to come for the mountain, which makes it easier to fly in and use public transportation or a car that sits at their second home.
The biggest decline in commercial air traffic occured during the shoulder season months of of March, April, May, and September of 2016, according to the statistics offered by the Town of Mammoth Lakes. Urdi said the 29 percent decrease in enplanements for September 2016 reported by the TOML is misleading. “If you look at enplanement, the load factors for September 2015 and September 2016 were almost exactly the same,” said Urdi in an interview this week. Planes remained roughly 60 percent full, regardless of the cutbacks.
Urdi said that the decrease in shoulder season traffic was due to a deliberate effort to reduce scheduled flights during that time. In 2016, MLT cut back scheduled commercial service during shoulder season to four days a week, instead of the seven days a week provided in 2015. “Instead of it costing us a ton of money, we decided to back off on service, but still provide access during the time of year when demand is typically lower.”
According to Urdi, the problem of low airport traffic is tied to development. “We have developers coming to us [MLT], saying they want to build conference spaces, but they won’t invest millions of dollars in those conference spaces until there is the air traffic to support them. Meanwhile, companies and businesses say they won’t come here for conferences until there is the air traffic to support their travel needs.” This year’s enplanement and load factor data support MLT’s assessment that there is insufficient demand for additional commercial flights. Adding the commercial flights developers and businesses are asking for would cost MLT hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in subsidies, said Urdi.
Now enter: JetSuiteX, a “Private for the Public” first class, scheduled charter plane service that will fly from Mammoth Yosemite to Burbank, CA starting December 13. Flights will cost between $300 and $500 round trip, and arrive in Mammoth at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday, through April. As private charters, the Embraer 135 jets will be able to land at the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop when inclement weather prevents them from doing so at Mammoth Yosemite, an option not available to commercial airlines.
For the small fee of $50,000, you can become a member of JetSuite, the company’s membership-based private charter alternative, which already flies out of Mammoth Yosemite. Urdi hopes JetSuite members will take advantage of the new, cheaper JetSuiteX flights and recommend them to their friends, creating a demand for public charter service year-round. “With this option, there are no baggage fees. You can bring your paddleboard, your golf clubs and all your kids’ gear and not deal with security or the hassle of LAX.”