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March 11, 2014
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Eagle County airport bouncing back from the recession

EAGLE COUNTY — This winter’s commercial air schedule saw a slight drop in available seats, but more of those seats had passengers in them.

County officials took a hard look at commercial airline passenger data Tuesday, with an eye toward adding nonstop flights to several new cities.

“We want to make data-driven decisions about what carriers and routes we target,” said Greg Phillips, director of the Eagle County Regional Airport. “There are opportunities here during the peak periods. It gives us more information to convince airlines to look at this more closely.”

Based on data, Washington Dulles could be a huge market for United, Schorr said.

Delta expanded its service from Minneapolis/St. Paul, but still had 7 percent more demand than available seats, said Kevin Schorr, of Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, the consulting firm that crunched the data.

A summer flight to Chicago would create opportunities to fly to many other places in the world, and Charlotte, N.C., provides access up and down the East Coast. From Charlotte, passengers would have access to 21 more markets than they would from Philadelphia.

Eagle has a 10 percent higher population and 62 percent higher household income than Montrose, and Allegiant already flies to Las Vegas from there, Schorr said.

Airport taking off again

The Eagle County airport is already Colorado’s third busiest during the ski season. About half of all destination skiers arrive through the local airport.

Airport passenger numbers peaked in March 2008, just before the economy tanked, and was off 31 percent this past year from that 2008 peak.

It’s bouncing back, Phillips said. It helps that local governments and businesses are helping grubstake air travel.

“These are tough times for small regional airports. Airlines have taken a position to reduce capacity wherever they can,” Phillips said. “For an airport like ours, the airlines want to see that we have a stake in it ourselves.”

They’re trying to create revenue guarantees for additional routes, to give airlines some time to make routes successful, Schorr said.

“Airlines can lose so much money so fast; they can lose their shirt if a route is not successful,” Phillips said. “The revenue guarantees are out there as collateral. Having some money available for subsidizing new routes would be a huge help.”

Technology helps

Thanks to more efficient aircraft such as the Airbus 319, legacy carriers including Delta, United and American are more flexible and can provide service a couple days a week. Their dilemma is where they put that aircraft the rest of the time.

“There are 200-plus communities vying for that service,” Phillips said.

They’re also trying to make the airport more attractive to locals, Phillips said.

Business travelers are more time sensitive and less price sensitive. Leisure travelers are more price sensitive and less time sensitive, Phillips said.

“If you’re traveling with three kids and there’s a $50 difference in price, you’ll probably hop in the car and travel to Denver. We’ll always struggle with that,” Phillips said.

20-year plan

Airport officials are looking 20 years into the future with a master plan that evaluates the anticipated growth.

The draft is available online at www.eaglecounty.us/EGEMasterPlan under “Project Documents.”

The plan is important when airport officials go looking for federal money for those projects, Phillips said. For example, 95 percent of the $595,000 it cost to create the 20-year plan came from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 11, 2014 09:54PM Published Mar 11, 2014 04:21PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.