Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@cmnm.org

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March 7, 2013
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Vail-Houston service would be five days per week

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - The EGE Air Alliance is closer to announcing a five-day-per-week summer nonstop Houston flight to the Eagle Airport as it nears a major fundraising milestone.

The alliance, a group made up of local business owners, town officials and other community members, began a quest to raise more than $500,000 early this year. They needed to raise a total of more than $600,000 to guarantee the Houston flight on United Airlines - a flight the airline company won't start loading until it has a revenue guarantee from the alliance.

Chris Romer, executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership, which now oversees the alliance, said by shaving off a couple of weeks of the air service, the new fundraising goal is a total of $485,000.

"We're really close," Romer said Thursday. "The engagement from the business community has been really good."

The alliance has historically had support from about 20 Eagle County businesses, but since the big push began in January, Romer said about 50 businesses have now contributed.

It's progress, but there are hundreds of businesses the alliance would still like to get involved. Romer said there are officially more than 3,000 businesses in Eagle County.

The Eagle County Regional Airport has seen declines in flight service since the 2009-10 winter season. Other regional airports serving ski resort areas have also stepped up in ways that the local community has not.

The Eagle County community, via the alliance, subsidizes $2.74 per available flight seat while communities like Jackson Hole, Gunnison/Crested Butte and Montrose/Telluride are subsidizing flights at rates as much as 10 times that amount. Those communities also have dedicated funding sources from lodging and sales taxes or taxes via marketing districts or regional transit authorities - all of which are funding sources the alliance board is likely to discuss in the future, said board chair Mike Brown, of Alpine Bank.

"We have looked at what other resort areas are doing and many of them do have long-term, sustainable funding models," Brown said.

Brown said the enthusiasm from the business community has been "outstanding" during this latest push. Businesses that hadn't traditionally contributed to the alliance are contributing now, but Brown and Romer both stress that the job is not done.

"There is a lot more to do," Brown said. "We're days away from reaching our short-term goal with the Houston flight, but we won't be taking our foot off the pedal so to speak."

When the alliance subsidizes a flight, like the Houston summer flight, the group makes a deal with an airline that guarantees a certain amount of revenue. Airlines aren't knocking down the doors of the Eagle Airport trying to bring flights in unless they know those flights will be successful.

But once a flight is successful, such as the Dallas summer flight that was once subsidized by the alliance, the airline no longer requires the revenue guarantee.

There are more flights from other markets the alliance wants to pursue, including a Washington, D.C., and a Toronto flight during the winter months, that the alliance will initially need to raise money for, however.

"It's not raise money for Houston and then sit back and try to raise for Houston again next summer," Romer said. "The long-term goal is to increase the available seats into the airport by over 20,000 in the summer and winter."

And with the alliance's new strategy to get businesses involved through various tiers of contribution levels, Romer and Brown hope that every business that benefits from the airport - be it directly or indirectly - jumps on board.

"Everyone's reliant, from an economic standpoint, on air service," Romer said. "There's a strategic approach to how we go about this."

Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 7, 2013 08:40PM Published Mar 7, 2013 08:38PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.