Aspen not likely to fund Eagle airport
At least 20 percent of winter visitors to Aspen and Snowmass arrive via Eagle County Regional Airport, and Bill Tomcich, of the central reservations agency there, suspects it has become a “light bit higher than that.””Eagle County has become a remarkable secondary airport for us,” says Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen/Snowmass and a former official with Vail Resorts in charge of airline arrangements.But it is, he emphasizes, only secondary. Aspen’s Pitkin County Airport is among the most accessible resort airports in the world, he says. Moreover, new types of planes – as well as the possibility of a lengthened runway – promise to make Aspen’s airport busier yet, he contends.This is a round-about-way of suggesting that Aspen is unlikely to contribute to revenue guarantees for planes flying into Eagle County. As affluent as Aspen’s visitors are, perhaps more wealthy than those of Vail-Beaver Creek, Tomcich claims that cost steers some decisions regarding travel. If people can fly directly to Aspen, they will, because the ground transportation is much less.Most Aspen and Snowmass lodges send free shuttles to the airport, about five minutes away, he points out, while Eagle County Regional is an 80-minute drive, with fares reflecting that. For example, it costs $54 per person on vans from Eagle to Aspen (compared to $44 to Vail), and a chartered Suburban to Aspen costs $260.
Still, air traffic into Aspen was down this year, particularly on weekends, even though the destination business grew, suggesting a greater number of people arrived via Eagle County or Denver. But Tomcich argues that traffic into Pitkin County Airport will grow as new airlines are produced. “It’s a matter of when, not if,” he says.Currently, only two types of aircraft, the BA 146 and the RJ85, are capable of flying into Pitkin County’s boxed-in airport. Those planes accommodate 35 to 70 passengers. But Tomcich expects to see more aircraft able to fly into the airport that can carry 60 to 100 people. A new master plan before the Pitkin County commissioners envisions a lengthened runway. That vision, while still subject to specific land-use and funding approvals, is an important step, he says.Tomcich has one other observation from this past winter. As at Vail, Aspen’s business from the Front Range of Colorado was down. Most attributed it to so-so snow conditions that were found wanting by savvy Front Range skiers.But Tomcich believes it’s at least partly a consequence of discount airlines such as Frontier and Ted operating out of Denver. That resulted in more people flying into Denver on their way to ski vacations. But it also resulted in more people from the Front Range going elsewhere rather than to ski. For some, the choice became a three-hour flight to Mexico or a three-hour drive to Aspen for the weekend.Aspen, he suspects, lost out to Mexico.