Our newest reporter Charlie Pike was asking me the other day about flying home for Christmas. And remarking on how expensive and inconvenient the flight schedules were between Reno and Atlanta.
Of course, I looked at him like he was an alien (and sometimes I do think he’s an alien).
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier and more efficient to fly out of Bishop and through Denver? I suggested.
You can do that? he replied in wonder.
Yes, I said. You can do that. And there’s even a local discount code which gets you 10% off.
The exchange brings up one of the key challenges for a marketing organization like Mammoth Lakes Tourism.
The local population, as well as the state population, turns over fairly rapidly. And each wave of newcomers needs to be reached and introduced to what the Sierra has to offer.
As Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi points out, since he took the job more than a decade ago, a lot of people have left California. But even more have arrived. The state’s population is two million greater than it was a decade ago – almost 40 million.
But people tend to discover you pretty quickly when the snow flies early.
Early snow has proven a boon to early season bookings of local commercial flights.
Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi told The Sheet this week that flight bookings are approximately double what they were at this same time a year ago.
The only difference in schedule this year is that there is no longer a Bishop-LAX flight offered by United.
There are still flights to Denver and San Francisco out of Bishop.
Charter flights out of Mammoth via Advanced Airlines are scheduled to Carlsbad, Burbank and Hawthorne. No, not the population hub of Hawthorne, Nevada, but Hawthorne, California, which is located just ten miles from LAX.
Hawthorne Airport offers a free shuttle to LAX.
MLT- which has signed a promotional agreement with skier Glen Plake as a marketing ploy- plans to fly Plake through Hawthorne and shuttle him to LAX next month to demonstrate how easy it is.
Advanced offers a 20% discount to locals who fly “opposite” routes – meaning, on outgoing flights Thursday/.Friday and incoming flights Sunday/Monday.
Advanced is also pitching seasonal flight 10-packs. $190 per leg to and from Hawthorne and Burbank and $200 per leg for Carlsbad.
“Local” 10-packs are priced at $140/$160 per leg respectively.
The Sheet spoke to Mr. Urdi last week about the goals/future of local air service.
The biggest challenge right now is fuel cost.
As Urdi says, every penny per gallon increase in the cost of fuel costs MLT an extra $8 in subsidy per flight.
Last March, for example, MLT had a 74% load factor on its Denver flight. Typically, 70% is break-even. But the spike in fuel prices prevented MLT from making much of a dent in its subsidy bill.
A blessing in disguise of the pandemic was that money was budgeted for air subsidy but then never spent due to cancellations. This has given Urdi and MLT a bit of a warchest to use to expand into new markets.
In Urdi’s view, the top three priorities for route expansion are:
1.) Dallas via American Airlines, because it provides incredible connectivity.
2.) Salt Lake City
When asked about Phoenix, Urdi said the market makes him a little nervous because Vail has failed there on a few occasions.
Strong bookings thus far this year (see chart) promise less subsidy and even more resources to marshal for next year.
On the Mammoth side, Advanced Airlines had 1,600 emplacements out of MMH last year. An airport reaching 10,000 annual emplacements is due a $1 million FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) subsidy.
“We could reach 10,000 enplanements,” says Urdi, “but it would cost $2 million in flight subsidies to win back the $1 million.”
Summer air service from MMH, which essentially ran from Father’s Day through Labor Day, cost upward of $300,000.