Eagle County airport expects ‘business as usual’ winter | VailDaily.com

Eagle County airport expects ‘business as usual’ winter

Online airline schedules show most familiar routes are still available

American Airlines and the other carriers serving the Eagle County Regional Airport are expecting a mostly "status quo" winter season.
Justin Q. McCarty | Daily file photo |
Who’s flying? Airlines serving Eagle County Regional Airport are: American. Delta. United. For more information go to http://www.flyvail.com.

There’s a lot of “success, all things considered,” in Eagle County’s economic picture this summer. Count air service among those wins.

Planes flying into the airport this summer have been mostly full, according to Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid.

Reid said that national airline “load factors,” meaning how full planes are, have been between 40 and 45% this summer. For Eagle County, that number has been between 75 and 80%. That comes with a caveat that some flights are using smaller-capacity planes. Still, the planes have been mostly full.

That’s led airlines to maintain a mostly “business as usual” posture heading into the winter, at least for now.

Fielding calls

Reid noted that the airport’s airline partners didn’t have much to say in the spring, when passenger numbers everywhere dropped dramatically. But, Reid added, he’s begun hearing from airline representatives who are “very optimistic.”

The intent, Reid said, is to maintain the airport’s usual winter markets. Frequency may decline, he added, but those markets will have service into Eagle County.

“As long as flights are booking strong, (service is) going to stay,” Reid said.

The optimism for Eagle County reflects a general trend that shows leisure air travel is recovering faster than business travel. Resort markets throughout the country are seeing relatively stronger passenger numbers, Reid said.

Peter Dann is a board member of the EGE Air Alliance, a nonprofit group of local business interest and local governments dedicated to building service at the airport.

Dann said the alliance for the coming year is aiming for as much of a status quo ski season as possible.

“People get used to certain flights being available,” Dann said. “We don’t want to disrupt that.”

Dann noted that American Airlines representatives have said they’re happy with the numbers on their summer flights this year — all things considered, of course.

This summer has seen a significant expansion of what guests consider a driveable distance. Dann, the Executive Vice President of East West Resorts, said he’s seen cars from a number of different states this summer, including many from states far enough from Colorado that guests usually fly.

Will fewer drive in winter?

Winter may be a different story, particularly as road conditions worsen.

“That’s why having dependable nonstop service is so important,” Dann said.

While efforts to expand air service have gone to the back burner this year, Reid said conversations with airlines have continued.

Reid noted that lower-cost carriers “may be looking at markets they haven’t traditionally gone into, so there may be an opportunity there.”

And, he added, locals have talked with every possible airline partner they can think of. “When they’re ready to talk, we’re ready to go.”

There’s a large air service conference scheduled in Denver next month. Reid said there will be an Eagle County contingent at that conference — unless it’s cancelled, of course.

While talks with airlines continue, Reid said those using the airport this winter will notice a few changes.

Hand sanitizer stations have been added, of course, and masks will be available for those who need them. Efforts have been made to provide more space at often-crowded baggage claim areas.

In addition, the airport will soon launch a campaign to urge people to “say goodbye outside,” to free up more space in the terminal.

People, including ground transportation providers, will be encouraged to work with customers outside if possible.

“It’s going to be an education process,” Reid said.

Still, if the COVID-19 virus remains mostly in check, Reid said resort airports could do well.

“We’re very optimistic about the coming season,” he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

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