County air travelers down slightly | VailDaily.com
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County air travelers down slightly

Cliff Thompson
New U.S. Airways flights helped keep traffic at Eagle County airport relatively stable last year, during which war in Iraq and the dropping of routes by other airlines caused a slight decrease in the total number of passengers.
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Statistics for last year show 581 fewer travelers flew into and out of the airport. In 2003, 170,601 travelers were tallied – that’s a 0.4 percent decrease from 2002’s 171,182 passengers.

The statistics are significant because they show the importance of the additional summer air service from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Eagle that kicked off in June and new winter service that was initiated this ski season by US Airways. Nearly 12,000 people used the summer flights and an additional 15,785 used US Airways this year. Last year, US Airways flew just 348 passengers into the valley.

But the increased service from those two flights was offset by two factors: three other airlines cut the number of flights to Eagle County and the war in Iraq pared the number of air travelers in March and April, the traditionally busy end of the ski season.

County statistics show only 54,384 passengers flew in March and April of 2003 compared to 62,955 the previous year- 8,571 fewer -a 14 percent decrease.

County Administrator Jack Ingstad said the numbers show the unstable state of the airline industry in general.

“It just shows it wasn’t a stellar year for the airlines,” he said. “It actually was a pretty good year for the county airlines.”

Despite the reduced number of travelers county airport operations are doing well, Ingstad said. By charging more to the airlines, the county was able to make an advance $210,000 payment in 2003 on the $20 million in bonds floated to build and improve the airport, Ingstad said.

Though 2004 got off to a rough start when snow stranded 3,500 passengers and closed the airport, Jan. 3 – traditionally one of the busiest Saturdays – more people seem to be taking to the air this ski season. Traffic in December was up 8.7 percent, with 18,895 people flying into Eagle last month compared to 17,372 in December, 2002. That jives with early reservation information showing advance bookings were up 7 percent or more.

Eagle’s numbers are also beating the national trend, which shows the number of air travelers through the Christmas holiday period – 8.3 million – was up only 2 percent compared to the previous season, according to statics compiled by the American Automobile Association.

The downward trend in Eagle started at the beginning of last year. Between January and April, 2003, 130,956 passengers flew in to and out of Eagle County, that’s 8. 7 percent less – or 12,380 passengers – than the same period of 2002.

Three airlines, Delta, Northwest and United dropped one flight each during the winter and that contributed to the decline, said Ingstad. The dropped flights served Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, respectively.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com


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