Eagle County airport hopes to lure more airlines
Southwest's entry into the Steamboat market could be good news for other ski resort towns
The recent news that Southwest Airlines is starting service between Denver and Hayden is a bigger deal than you might think.
The announcement came Feb. 24, and seasonal daily flights are expected to begin by the end of this year. Schedules and prices haven’t yet been disclosed.
The Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden serves the Steamboat Springs market, and people flying there generally aren’t going to ski here. But the airline’s move has local air service boosters excited about the possibilities of lower-priced airlines making inroads into ski country.
Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said “it’s absolutely critical” to bring more airlines into the Eagle County Regional Airport. More airlines mean lower-cost airlines instead of “legacy” carriers including United, American and Delta. Those airlines today serve Eagle County from a number of different cities.
A ‘boon’ for locals
But, Chandler-Henry said, a link-up with a carrier such as Southwest, Allegiant or Jet Blue, especially on a year ‘round basis, could be a “boon” for local travelers.
Chandler-Henry said she believes it’s “likely” that a lower-cost airline will begin service to Eagle County sometime in the next year or so.
No announcements have been made, of course, but Chandler-Henry said airline officials “seem interested” in doing business at the local airport.
And, she added, Southwest’s entry into the Steamboat Springs market could provide a positive nudge to other ski resort markets, “If (airlines) see the ski markets are good for them,” Chandler-Henry said.
The EGE Air Alliance is a local nonprofit made up of government and business interests. The mission of the group, named for the Eagle County airport’s three-letter Federal Aviation Administration signifier, is to boost flights — and passengers — at the airport.
Chris Romer, President of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce, said the alliance is working with airport and county officials to find more carriers to serve the airport.
Romer said the expansion strategy includes carriers including Southwest, JetBlue and others that currently aren’t flying into resort airports.
Romer praised the work done to get Southwest into the Steamboat market.
“If you increase capacity with all (Southwest’s) connections, that opens a ton of opportunity,” Romer said.
While United currently offers daily service between Eagle County and Denver, Romer said another airline offering that flight as a connector would be welcome.
“But ideally, any new routes or airlines would be to markets we don’t currently serve,” Romer said.
Chandler-Henry said Alaska Air would be a good addition to the airport, since it serves the Pacific Northwest. That part of the country has easy access to Whistler Blackcomb, part of the Vail Resorts network. That means there are a lot of Epic Pass holders in that part of the country.
Chandler-Henry said boosting air service to Eagle County might also take a few cars off Interstate 70.
Chandler-Henry works as a volunteer on Vail Mountain in the winter. In that job, she asks just about everyone she rides a lift with how they came to Vail. She also asks if those people know about flights into and out of Eagle County.
Some don’t know about the local airport, she said. Others say they can’t make connections into Eagle County.
Cars off I-70?
“More connections would get more people off I-70,” she said. “People chasing powder wouldn’t have to be stuck on (Vail) Pass.”
In addition, year-round service could help Eagle County diversify its economy. While it’s unlikely the county will ever see much in the way of manufacturing or similar businesses, Chandler-Henry said reliable 12-month service could benefit people who can work remotely.
“If you only have to be in Chicago once a month, you can live in Eagle Ranch,” she said.
That’s going to take more time and effort, something Chandler-Henry said is happening now. Beyond meeting rooms, Chandler-Henry noted that the airport’s renovated terminal now has more gates, which means more jets can park there.
“I do think we’re making a lot of progress,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.