County considers adding Chicago flight |

County considers adding Chicago flight

Tamara Miller
Bret Hartman / Vail DailyLocal business owners are pushing the county add to direct summer flight to Eagle from Chicago. They argue the market is there, though the county wants more analysis.

EAGLE COUNTY – Tourists from the Windy City may have an easier time blowing through Eagle County next summer.Local merchants are rallying the County Board of Commissioners to add a direct flight from Chicago to the Eagle County Regional Airport’s 2005 summer air service. The group, which consists of 29 local businesses, wants the county to commit to adding the flight in time for the upcoming tourism peak.”We would love a message out there during the Christmas holiday,” said Frank Johnson, executive director of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau.The Chicago area is Eagle County’s third largest tourism market in the summer, Johnson said. The merchants have pledged $335,000 to help get that flight, and two existing ones, into the airport this summer. But county commissioners say they want hard numbers to prove it before giving the OK. “I want to see proof that the Chicago flight won’t hurt other flights,” Commissioner Michael Gallagher said.

Flying fundsBringing those flights here requires money. The county previously underwrote a $475,000 guarantee to American Airlines for a direct flight from Dallas. It was successful enough that the county ended up only paying $20,000 in revenue guarantees to American. Last summer, a second direct flight – a United Airlines route from Denver – was added. The county put up $450,000 to guarantee both flights and didn’t end up having to pay any of that. Still, the money has to be put aside in case summer flights fail to profit, and the commissioners aren’t inclined to dedicate any more. That’s where the merchants come in. The group has pledged $335,000 toward the guarantees, and are trying to reach a goal of $350,000, Johnson said. The county should only have to pitch in $200,000, and $550,000 would be used to guarantee all three flights.

Stealing customers? While passenger service rose last summer along with revenue, county officials said the United flight began siphoning passengers off the American flight because some travelers chose to connect through Denver instead.Adding a third flight could do the same, Commissioner Tom Stone said.”I’m concerned that we ought to work with what we have,” he said. But supporters think the impact would be minimal. Commissioner Arn Menconi said Chicago also could serve as a regional connection for the so-called “Rust Belt” – the areas of Detroit and Lansing, Mich.

Menconi supported allowing businesses to start marketing a Chicago summer flight soon.”We have an opportunity to market to a large percentage of people,” he said. There also is talk in the business community of bringing a fourth flight – another direct flight from Denver – into the airport this summer, but none of the commissioners expressed any enthusiasm for that.Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 607, or Colorado

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