Eagle County airport winter flight season underway with as many as 19 flights a day | VailDaily.com

Eagle County airport winter flight season underway with as many as 19 flights a day

Airport traffic went from four flights per day to as many as 19 per day in the winter

While lodging and other resort revenues remain strong, current trends show softening lodging demand.
Scott Miller/Archive photo

The Eagle County Regional Airport went from sleepy to sizzling this week.

The airport had four incoming and outgoing flights Wednesday. The number jumped to 19 Thursday. Adding to the crush of action is the fact that all these flights arrive between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

By the numbers
  • 4: Dec. 14 flights into and out of the Eagle County Regional Airport.
  • 19: Dec. 15 flights into and out of the Eagle County Regional Airport.
  • 3: Airlines serving the airport: American, United and Delta.
  • 0: Flights on minimum revenue guarantees.

“It’s like flipping a switch,” Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid said.

All that action requires staff, from baggage handlers to security officers. Reid said airport employee staffing is “getting there.” The same is true of people hired by airlines and the Transportation Security Agency, Reid said. But, he added, proper staffing for all operations is still “challenging.”

Chris Baddick owns the Dollar and Thrifty car rental franchises at the airport, as well as Cooley Mesa Detailing. That company cleans and services rental cars after they’ve been returned. On a busy Saturday, the Cooley Mesa Detailing crew will wash as many as 250 vehicles. The turnaround from return to fresh rental can be as little as an hour.

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Baddick said his companies at the airport have a “good crew of people,” many of whom have been with him for years. But, he added, the Cooley Mesa operation is missing “a ‘nice-to-have’ four or five employees to give our core crew a break over the holidays.”

Like the old days?

Baddick said business this year feels a bit like the pre-pandemic days. Rental agencies have plenty of cars, and it’s a little bit easier to hire. Prices are more normal than in the pandemic days, too, he added.  

Baddick said his companies start gearing up for the season to come just as a previous season is winding down.

“We call it D-Day,” he said, adding that activity goes “from a drip to a fire hose.”

Reid said airport numbers back up Baddick’s impressions. Passenger numbers year to date in 2022 are up 4.5% over the same period in 2021. The increase is 11.5% compared to the same period in 2019.

The increase over 2021 is notable because that year was the best passenger year since 2008, the year before the Great Recession hit hardest.

More important, Reid said “leakage” — those who could fly from Eagle County but instead choose another airport — has declined by 6% compared to 2019. That means more local residents are using the airport.

More people on airplanes in Eagle County means fewer people on Interstate 70, Reid noted.

There’s a new flight

This winter’s air program isn’t much different than the one last winter in terms of service, with one notable exception.

American Airlines has launched winter service between Austin, Texas, and Eagle County. That flight is coming without revenue guarantees.

Reid said the Austin flight will run daily through the first week of January, then weekly for a few weeks before switching back to daily flights through the end of the ski season.

Much of the time, airlines will insist on minimum revenue guarantees to start a new route. Eagle County recently received a $1 million federal grant to help fund those guarantees, and there’s a $1 million match from the EGE Air Alliance, a local group of businesses and local governments.

Those guarantees may kick off a route, but they’re intended as see funds, not forever assistance. None of the current flights into the airport rely on revenue guarantees.

Reid said efforts continue to attract another carrier to the airport. Those talks haven’t yet borne fruit. But, Reid said, in an era of serious pilot shortages, airlines “continue to take our meetings.”

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