Airlines commit to longer contracts | VailDaily.com

Airlines commit to longer contracts

Veronica Whitney

Eagle County has inked three-year agreements with four of its major air carriers. Northwest, Delta, United Express and Continental have all agreed to three-year lease extensions. These airlines were all on one-year agreements with the airport.

The county also still has three years left of a 10-year contract with American Airlines and a new yearly contract with U.S. Airways.

“These three-year extensions assure this community that our airport will have continued commercial airline service from five national airline carriers,” said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad. “This means the tourist industry and locals using the Eagle County Regional Airport can count on the service until 2007.”

The contracts also guarantee a revenue stream to pay bonds issued to expand the airport two years ago. The county borrowed $26 million to pay for the airport expansion and it still owes $22 million.

“When we structured the loans for the airport expansion, we set up a terminal corporation which would lease space and those revenues would pay off debt,” Ingstad said. “We’re doing well with the payments. In fact, we’re ahead.”

Years ago, United Airlines and American Airlines both entered into long-term agreements with Eagle County. But United Airlines abruptly terminated its long-term agreement with Eagle County during bankruptcy protection last year. The American Airlines lease continues.

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“It has been a turbulent year for the airlines so we are very pleased with the success of these negotiations,” Ingstad said. “This would not have been possible without the support of both the County Commissioners and Vail Resorts. Both strongly supported this three-year approach and having all agreements up for negotiations for the 2007 ski season.”

Starting Dec. 20 and through April 4, US Airways will begin service to Eagle County. On weekends, the airline will be fly a Boeing 757 nonstop between Eagle County Airport and Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C.

The addition of US Airways means two more hubs and more direct service to major cities in the United States.

With the new service, passengers from 14 cities in the United States will be able to fly direct to the county airport. So far, Northwest, Continental, Delta, American and United Express have offered direct service from New York City, Newark, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Denver.

“US Airways also has entered into a sub-lease with American Airlines for use of their counter space at the terminal,” Ingstad said. “And it has asked us to explore options for their own counter space in following years.”

After successful summer flights between Eagle County and Dallas, the county is also working with Kent Myers of Airplanners LLC to explore other options for year-round service and expand summer flights.

“This is pretty remarkable for a community our size to have an airport like Eagle County’s served by six national major airlines serving major cities,” Ingstad said.

New tower operating

Flying into Eagle County Regional Airport is now safer. The new air traffic control tower is already operating at the county’s airport.

The $2.3 million tower, that began operating Nov. 19, puts the air traffic control people in a higher location, increasing visibility.

The tower is the beginning of Eagle County’s efforts to enhance the navigation system at the airport, said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

“The new tower also allows the airport to handle increased traffic,” said Ingstad. “It moves us from a makeshift traffic control tower. Now this is a state of the art tower.”

The 115-foot-tall, nine-story control tower, which replaced the existing 43-foot-tower, has space for four controllers instead of the one who worked in the old tower. The new tower replaces a non-standard facility that was actually considered a temporary tower when moved to the north side of the airport in 1995.

The next step will be an instrument landing system, Ingstad said.

“Finally, we hope to put radar in place,” he added.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.