Eagle County’s airport seeing more seats and more flights to more cities | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s airport seeing more seats and more flights to more cities

American Airlines has expanded its winter season service from Chicago, and is now providing year 'round service to the Eagle County Regional Airport from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Those flights, and others, have expanded capacity into the county airport.

GYPSUM — The Eagle County Regional Airport has long been seen as a way to bring tourists into the Vail Valley. But added flights and routes may be making the airport better for locals flying out.

At a Tuesday, Feb. 20, joint meeting of the Vail Town Council and Eagle County Commissioners, Eagle County Aviation Director Kip Turner told the officials about some of that increased capacity.

For March of this year, seat capacity will increase 29 percent from the same month in 2017. The difference becomes more dramatic in April and May, when seat capacity this year is more than double the capacity available in 2017.

Much of that capacity comes from improvements to United Airlines' Denver-to-Eagle County route. That route in previous years was flown by aircraft with only a few dozen seats. The route now is covered by what Turner called "main line" aircraft, such as the Boeing 737. Those planes can hold around 130 passengers.

The other big step in capacity is last year's decision by American Airlines to provide 12-month daily service from the Dallas and Fort Worth area.

Capacity doesn't always correlate with passengers, but Turner said more seats equate to more opportunity to draw passengers. And, he added, the airport's passenger numbers grew significantly in October and November of 2017.

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Flying to hubs

The Dallas flight played a role, Turner said, but the flight from Denver was primarily responsible for the boost.

Those daily flights, which will continue through the spring of this year into the summer, both connect with major hubs for two of the country's biggest airlines. That means passengers can connect through those hubs to destinations virtually anywhere else.

Mike Brumbaugh is the chairman of the EGE Air Alliance, a nonprofit consortium of government and business interests that works to improve service into the local airport.

Brumbaugh said the improved service to Denver and Dallas has been a "boon" to local businesses.

"It's like manna from heaven," he said. Brumbaugh said he's heard from people in the lodging industry that those flights have made it easier to pitch the Vail Valley for national conferences.

With service into Eagle County, hotels can "compete against other destinations," Brumbaugh said.

United has also expanded its winter service from Chicago to Eagle County.

Many new flights require revenue guarantees. Communities commit to covering an airline's costs if a route doesn't carry a predetermined number of passengers.

Most new flights require those guarantees, and they remain important in building a portfolio of flights, Turner said. But, he added, two new ski-season flights — from San Francisco and Salt Lake City — didn't require those guarantees.

"The airlines felt there was a demand for the service," Turner said. "That tells me how strong the market is."

The expanded service from Denver and Chicago also came with no guarantees needed.

Revenue guarantees are only of limited use, though. If a route still requires revenue guarantees after several years of service, then it's probably time to reconsider that contract.

A summer United flight that had required guarantees — raised by the air alliance via government and business contributions — has been dropped for the summer of this year.

Seeking new partners

Brumbaugh said Houston remains an important market for Eagle County. But, he added, "we felt there were some better opportunities out there."

The combination of expanded service and greater seat capacity means that Eagle County may be on the brink of being a good place to fly from.

Brumbaugh said he's recently seen fare sales from both United and American, using Denver and Dallas as connecting points.

Turner said he recently had family fly into Eagle County from the Southeastern United States. Tickets were $300-ish per person.

Brumbaugh also said friends this winter have flown from Eagle County to Phoenix and then on to Hawaii.

Eagle County is a great choice if fare prices are competitive, Brumbaugh said.

"Between your time, parking, security and (increased) blood pressure," flying out of Eagle County is a fantastic way to travel, he said.

"I talk to people once a week who've done it," he added. "If you can drive five minutes from Eagle and 30 minutes from Vail … how great is that?"

And, after a decade of working to rebuild passenger numbers, Brumbaugh said he believes there's some real momentum building.

"We're on a great path right now," he said.

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

Ready for more company

The Eagle County Regional Airport this year will see a $34 million expansion of the commercial passenger terminal.

That work will include an expansion of the building, which will allow people to stand inside while waiting in security lines. The concessionaire area will be improved, and four jet bridges will be added, so passengers don’t have to walk across the tarmac during a rain or snowstorm.

The terminal will remain open during the work.