Eagle County airport will see more winter service, new route, from United | VailDaily.com

Eagle County airport will see more winter service, new route, from United

United Airlines recently announced it will add a new ski-season flight from Los Angeles. The airline also announced that it will expand current winter service from San Francisco and Washington D.C. to daily flights.

EAGLE COUNTY — United Airlines has expanded its service into Eagle County Regional Airport for the coming ski season.

The airline has added a new weekly flight from Los Angeles and expanded to daily service from San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

United's winter service to Eagle County now includes flights from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, New Jersey, San Francisco and Washington. The service expansion begins Dec. 19.

United also flies a daily flight from Denver to Eagle County. American Airlines also flies a year 'round, daily flight from Dallas/Fort Worth.

The flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco are coming without minimum revenue guarantees. Those guarantees generally come from communities served by airlines, and payments are made if passenger numbers on a specific route are insufficient to pay for the service.

The flight from Washington is being subsidized, at least for now.

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Michael Brown is a board member on the EGE Air Alliance, a nonprofit group of business and government representatives that works to bring more flights to Eagle County. Brown didn't reveal the exact amount of the revenue guarantee for the Washington flight, but said it is "substantial."

"We feel like it's an important market," Brown said. Right now we deem it's worth it to get the legs under the Washington flight. We're hoping for incremental improvements."

The area around the nations capital has long been viewed as a potentially lucrative one for the Vail Valley. Some of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country are served by Dulles International Airport.

No permanent subsidy

On the other hand, Brown said the idea behind revenue guarantees is to get specific flights to stand on their own without the need for subsidies.

That's usually three- to five-year process, Brown said.

If a flight can't stand on its own, it's time to put money into other flights, Brown said.

That's what happened with a summer flight to Eagle County from Houston on United. The Air Alliance decided to drop its revenue guarantees — and, ultimately, the flight — after a few years of only middling success.

The news of the expanded United service came as good news to Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey.

"This is a big deal," Wadey said adding that the Air Alliance, along with Vail Resorts and local governments, have all been working to expand air service into the Eagle County.

"It looks like that's finally happening — kudos to the people who have been working on this," she said.

Wadey noted that the Washington area has people "who fit the demographic we're looking for… families and an older, more sophisticated clientele."

While the Los Angeles flight is only weekly, Wadey said that flight will allow the Vail Valley to open up direct service to a major international airport.

Park Hyatt Beaver Creek General Manager Mark Herron is also the current chairman of the Vail Valley Partnership Board of Directors. Herron said direct flights to Eagle County are important to bring more business to the area.

Being able to fly directly to Eagle County from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington is a great sales tool, he said.

Direct flights eliminate the various problems with Interstate 70, especially in the winter, Herron said. Eliminating more than two hours of driving to Denver International Airport — on a good day — puts Eagle County on a more even footing with other resorts, he added.

Saving time, trouble

"Now we're competing with Aspen and Park City … in some cases we're beating Whistler and Jackson (Wyoming)," he said.

Saving time is one thing, but Herron noted that winter service into Eagle County also prevents a lot of the stress of renting a car or climbing into a van in bad weather.

"If it snows… and you're not used to that… it can be treacherous," Herron said.

Having an airport 30 or 40 minutes from Vail and Beaver Creek also helps put fewer cars in local parking structures. Both resorts sell themselves as places people can come without cars. Vail has its free bus system, and Beaver Creek has a complimentary dial-a-ride service for guests.

"Our (parking) garages are less full in the winter than they are in the summer," Herron said.

The new service may also drive still more service, Herron said.

"American (Airlines) and others may try to match that service," Herron said.

Expanded service, at least in the winter, could also be helpful for locals, Herron said.

"Do we become more of a commuter city because we have (service) availability? Maybe."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

What’s coming?

• Airline: United.

• Route: Los Angeles to Eagle County Regional Airport

Frequency: Ski-season weekly.

• Route: San Francisco to Eagle County.

Frequency: Ski-season daily.

• Route: Washington D.C. to Eagle County.

Frequency: Ski-season daily.

More info: http://www.flyvail.com.