American Airlines will have daily air service from Dallas to Eagle County
By the numbers
1: Airline — United Express — offering daily service from Denver to Eagle County all year.
2: Airlines offering daily service — United Express and American Airlines — as of June 2.
4: Airlines providing ski-season service to the Eagle County Regional Airport.
70 percent: Average passenger occupancy on ski-season service from Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
GYPSUM — Starting Friday, another daily-service option will be available into and out of Eagle County Regional Airport — for the next 10 months.
The EGE Air Alliance — a nonprofit group dedicated to building service to the airport — this week announced a deal with American Airlines. That deal will bring daily air service from Dallas from June 2 of this year through April 2, 2018.
Told of the deal, two people in the Vail Valley lodging industry responded with the same words: “That’s great!”
The deal with American revives an experiment from 2008 and 2009, right as a national economic slump really took hold.
Alliance board member Gabe Shalley said besides the economic landscape, the daily offseason service might also have been hampered by the equipment being used. In 2008 and 2009, American used the same Boeing 757 airliners it used for ski season and summer visitors. Those planes can carry about 180 passengers, and that’s too much aircraft for spring and fall service, Shalley said.
This time, American will switch from 757s to 128-passenger Airbus 319 airliners for fall service.
Building service with subsidies
The fall service will be subsidized. If there are shortfalls in a negotiated revenue amount for the route, then the alliance will cover that shortfall.
Revenue subsidies are common in the airline business, especially with new service. Those subsidies tend to shrink throughout time, as routes become more successful.
A United Airlines summer flight from Houston in 2013 originally required the alliance to guarantee up to $400,000 in shortfalls. That amount has been reduced every year since, Shalley said.
But why fly in the fall?
Shalley said fall service from Dallas, one of American’s major service hubs, will enable more corporate groups have easy air access for events in the Vail Valley. Fall air service for years has been limited to a daily flight from Denver on United Express Airlines.
“We also see October as an opportunity for locals,” Shalley said. “There are a lot of people traveling in that gap season, before winter sets in.”
There’s a short school break during the fall, but Shalley said there are many other locals who have a chance to get away.
Besides leisure travel, Shalley added that virtually every lodging property in the valley sends out sales teams in the fall to drum up ski-season business.
Getting locals to use the airport has long been a goal of the alliance and county officials. With another option in the fall, Shalley said more people may start flying from the close-in airport.
A new American Airlines route from Phoenix last ski season drew a decent amount of business from locals, Shalley said, thanks to what she called “aggressive” pricing.
That Phoenix flight started last ski season, as did a route from Washington, D.C.
Both those routes were successful, with average passenger loads of more than 70 percent.
Shalley said the alliance board was confident in the success of the flight from the nation’s capitol. Phoenix was a more complex puzzle, she said, requiring both skiers catching connecting flights into Eagle County, as well as valley residents catching flights for a quick trip out of the valley.
New access for groups
At the Vail Racquet Club, general manager Matt Ivy said that property probably won’t see much in the way of fall group business from the new flight from Dallas. But the East Vail property does get business in November from ski teams training at Golden Peak. A flight from Dallas makes trips easier for those teams.
Timbers Resorts operates The Sebastian Hotel in Vail. That property in Vail Village does see a good bit of group business in the fall. Annie Lynch, of the Timbers sales and marketing team, said she’s excited about the prospect of more air service.
“We just finished a business review for two groups out of Dallas,” Lynch said.
A direct air connection to the Vail Valley might help close those deals. Ivy said the fall service, as well as competitively priced service to Phoenix in the winter, will be helpful for both locals and their friends.
While there will be expanded service into the airport this year, Shalley said she doesn’t expect to see any additional flights added for the coming winter.
“All four airlines and all 12 routes are up and loaded (into reservation systems),” Shalley said.
There are always discussions about potential new routes, but Shalley said the alliance’s budget is essentially committed for the coming ski season.
“But we continue to look for new opportunities,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.
The greater community is invited to join a Celebration of Pepi’s Life on Friday, Sept. 20, at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.