EAGLE — An air travel consultant advised Eagle County to say “not yet” to more direct international flights.
Campbell-Hill’s Kevin Schorr presented a feasibility study to determine whether the numbers worked for regular international flights from Mexico into the Eagle and Aspen airports.
They don’t, at least not right now.
Some of it’s based on the physical restrictions, such as the kinds of planes that can fly such distances to Eagle and Aspen with a planeload of passengers and payload. Those constraints rule out nonstop flights to and from Europe, Australia, South America and the Caribbean, Schorr said.
Aeromexico could do it and connect to 30 other markets from its Mexico City hub, Schorr said. But to make it work would require daily flights from Mexico City.
“Although passenger demand patterns may justify three weekly round trip frequencies to Mexico City during the ski season, the operations and maintenance cost of an international arrivals facility render the opportunity infeasible,” the Campbell-Hill study said. “EGE and Eagle County should not pursue development of an international arrivals facility given the concerns regarding the financial implications of operating such a facility.”
They won’t dive into it, but it’s worth plugging away at, said Greg Phillips, Eagle County Airport manager.
“Over the last several years we’ve seen significant growth in the international market, not just to the Eagle County Regional Airport, but the Roaring Fork Valley as well,” Phillips said. “One of the things they value most is nonstop service,” Phillips said.
The biggest international growth has been in the Central American and South American markets. Passengers there, like passengers everywhere, value price, schedule and nonstop service.
“If we can provide these things, we think it would help drive our market,” Phillips said.
It’s all about the Benjamins
Based on the existing anticipated market, there’s not much chance they’d make money on it, Phillips said. Seven-day service might make money, but the demand is probably not there yet.
“Even if this turned up roses, the wildcard for us is customs and border protection service,” Phillips said.
It would cost $2.6 million to renovate an Eagle County airport building to accommodate international travelers and the customs services they’d need. Then it will cost $400,000-$500,000 a year to subsidize it, assuming they could get customs agents for the ski season, three and a half months a year.
“The chances are low of getting customs agents for three and a half months a year,” Phillips said.
It’s not a consideration for travelers from Canada, who can pre-clear customs in Toronto or other Canadian cities before flying to the U.S. Travelers from Mexico cannot because the U.S. and Mexico don’t have that sort of agreement.
To make operating an international terminal break even, international travelers would have to be charged between $101.64 and $112.89 per passenger for customs, above the fare they’re already paying — an average of $703 one way into Eagle County and about $740 into Aspen, Schorr said.
The rule of thumb is that about 15 percent of Aspen’s international travelers come through the Eagle County Regional Airport. That’s a traditional rule of thumb because no one is giving up their actual data, and Schorr said Campbell-Hill agreed to keep it confidential as well.
The Eagle County airport sees 170,000 enplanements a year. The peak was 2007 at 232,000.
Between October 2012 and September 2013, 33,104 international travelers flew through Eagle. That’s a three-fold increase over 2003, Phillips said.
Most are connecting in Dallas/Fort Worth, (34 percent), Houston (23 percent) and Miami (10 percent), Schorr said.
Latin America is about 80 percent of the Eagle County airport’s international traffic, and Mexico City is the top destination, Schorr said.
Aspen gets more United Kingdom travelers, and most fly from Denver to Aspen instead of taking a ground shuttle. About 27 percent of Aspen’s international travelers fly transatlantic; 21 percent fly transpacific, Schorr said.
The international market pumps $23.4 million into the Vail Valley economy and about $25 million into the Roaring Fork Valley economy.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.