Commercial airport traffic up a smidgen |

Commercial airport traffic up a smidgen

Cliff Thompson
A Eagle County Airport ground employee clears snow from under an American Airlines 757 jetliner grounded Friday during a heavy snowstorm that hit Eagle County causing accidents and delays.

A total of 171,182 passengers flew in and out of the airport in 2002, while 169,826 used it in troubled 2001.

But numbers have flattened since the record of 188,745 in 1998. Most of that, 93 percent, occurs during ski-season flights.

“Any growth is a good thing because we were down for a period,” said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

But with the airline industry struggling – United Airlines declared bankruptcy two weeks ago and other airlines are troubled – Eagle County is poised to pare its airport $3.85 million airport budget for 2004, if need be.

“1998 was the peak of several years of aggressive growth of available seats,” said Bill Tomcich, one of the architects of building seasonal air service into Eagle County, as well as president of Stay Aspen/Snowmass, a central reservations system for that area.

“Things have actually come down since then because the airlines have become smarter about fine-tuning their schedules,” he said.

Revenue for 2003, projected to be $3.85 million, is to be generated by fees paid by airlines, rental car and other ground transportation fees, airport concessionaire fees and charges assessed to passengers through tickets.

Expense totals for the airport, meanwhile, were $1.16 million for operations and $2.4 million for the airport’s $23.5 million in bonds.

United’s bankruptcy may affect revenue for 2004; but the airport’s 2003’s budget has been bolstered by a one-year lease with United Express/Air Wisconsin, which thrice-daily connects Eagle County to Denver International Airport. Negotiations for next year’s air service will begin soon and conclude by mid-summer, Ingstad said.

United Express provides approximately 25 percent of the passengers to the airport annually. American has the lion’s share, with just under 47 percent. Delta, Northwest and Continental equally split the remaining 29 percent.

Eagle County’s airport underwent significant expansion over the last 15 years, allowing 757s to fly in from nearly any domestic destination.

Typically, Saturday is the busiest day of the week, with as many as 24 commercial flights landing at airport. On weekdays it’s approximately half that.

Passenger use skyrocketed through the 1990s but has flattened over the last three years. In 1993, 4,500 passengers used the facility. The following year, that jetted to nearly 63,000, hitting 174,500 in 1997. Since 1993, 1.33 million people have flown in and out of the airport on commercial flights.

A portion of those passengers deplane and head to Aspen, which has three airlines serving its smaller, difficult-to-approach airfield requiring special aircraft.

What the immediate future holds for the Eagle County facility is largely due to the reconsolidation of the airline industry, Tomcich and others said.

“One thing is certain: What the aviation industry looks like today won’t be what it will look like next year,” Tomcich said. “That will have an impact on mountain airports. There’s going to be big changes.”

More than nine out of every 10 people flying into the Eagle County Regional Airport do so between December to April. Spring, summer and fall flights make up less than 7 percent of the total.

Ingstad said the county’s airport budget is in better shape than last year, but he’s prepared to cut it as needed.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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