EAGLE COUNTY — The Eagle County Regional Airport will host its first international flight since a flight from Mexico City in the early 1990s this winter, when Air Canada begins weekly service for the coming ski season.
The flight was engineered by Vail Resorts and Eagle County officials, and finalized recently. Passengers coming to Eagle County will be “pre-cleared” through customs before leaving Canada, meaning there’s no need for customs service at the commercial terminal — there’s a small customs desk at the Vail Valley Jet Center, which handles private aircrafts coming to the airport.
Unlike this summer’s new United Airlines flight from Houston, bringing the service didn’t require any revenue guarantees. Those guarantees, usually provide by communities in order to lure airlines to airports, ensure that a flight won’t be a money-loser for an airline.
“We’re looking to make (flights) work without them — that’s good for everybody,” said Greg Phillips, Eagle County director of aviation.
The Toronto flight will allow Vail Resorts to tap into one of its growing destination skier markets. In a release announcing the flight, Bob Stinchcomb, the company’s vice president for business development, said: “Canada is one of our most important international markets, so we’re thrilled that our Canadian guests can now enjoy a seamless travel experience to Vail and Beaver Creek. ... We have seen consistent growth in visitation to Vail and Beaver Creek from the Canadian market over the last several years, and this new nonstop service between Vail/Eagle and Toronto Pearson Airports will create an even more compelling reason for Canadians to experience our world-class mountain resorts.”
A flight from Canada’s biggest airline hub is also another way to bring international passengers into the Vail Valley for the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships, since they’ll be able to clear U.S. customs before coming to Eagle County.
The plane used on the flight from Toronto will be an Airbus A319, a 120-seat airliner with both “executive” and “economy” sections. That continues the trend of airlines bringing smaller planes to Eagle County as the 188-seat Boeing 757 is phased out. The 757 has been virtually the only long-distance airliner to come to Eagle County during the past 20 years or so, primarily because of its performance at high-elevation airports. Smaller planes such as the A319 and Boeing 737 now have the performance to operate from high-elevation runways, which means airlines will use more of the smaller planes in coming years.
The switch to smaller planes has raised worries about losing available seats into Eagle County. That’s one reason the EGE Air Alliance, a group of local businesses and governments, has put new emphasis on building summer service.
Michael Brown, chairman of the EGE Air Alliance Board of Directors, said the new Toronto winter flight may help that group in its efforts.
“Whether it’s winter or summer, an alliance effort or a Vail Resorts/airport effort, every flight helps reverse the decline in enplanements, and it’s great to see that,” Brown said.
If the winter flight from Toronto is a success, it could make an alliance pitch for a summer flight a little easier, Brown said. Toronto is one of the cities the alliance has identified for potential summer flights in the next few years.
If the Toronto winter flight is successful, it will also create more awareness that routes into Eagle County can be a good financial proposition for airlines, Phillips said.
“It creates one more data point to use,” Phillips said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.