Eagle County airport reports passenger numbers are lower | VailDaily.com

Eagle County airport reports passenger numbers are lower

Local numbers still better than national averages

Passengers wait for their luggage on Christmas Day in Gypsum. While the Eagle County Regional Airport has reported declines in commercial passenger numbers, private aircraft operations at the Vail Valley Jet Center are showing slight growth.
Nate Peterson/npeterson@vaildaily.com

This isn’t much of a surprise, but passenger numbers at the Eagle County Regional Airport have declined from the previous year. The good news is that local enplanements declined far less than national averages.

According to Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid, airport passenger numbers in 2020 were down roughly 23% from the previous year. The national decline was roughly 60%, he added. In an email, Reid noted that Eagle County was bolstered by a strong first quarter of 2020, followed by a “relatively strong” autumn.

Passenger numbers for December of 2020, declined 36% from the same period in 2019, and have recovered somewhat in January. February so far has been “slightly stronger” than December and January.

“We did expect our passenger loads to be a bit off due to continued COVID concerns, as well as a relatively light snow season so far,” Reid wrote.

Lodging not as hard-hit

While fewer commercial passengers are flying into the airport, the decline in those numbers is more steep than the declines in local lodging. Lodging numbers so far show a roughly 20% decline from the previous year. But Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer said that it’s become difficult to track those numbers from week to week due to increasingly narrow booking windows.

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That, Romer said, is due in part to the old trend of people chasing snowfall. But consumer confidence is playing a larger role, in terms of safety at lodges and destinations, and confidence that guests can comfortably spend money for vacations.

The difference between passenger numbers and lodging occupancy can also be marked down, in part, to the willingness of guests to drive longer distances. That distance in the past year has increased from several hundred miles to 1,000 miles or more.

Tom Foley is the senior vice president of business processes and analytics for DestiMetrics Inntopia, a lodging research company. Foley in an email agreed that drive-in guests are helping make up for the loss in commercial air passengers. That trend is expected to continue for some time, he added.

“It’s no surprise to me that (Eagle County’s airport) is pacing ahead of national (year over year) analyses,” Foley wrote, adding that many smaller, regional airports are also outperforming national trends.

Strength in private aviation

The story is a bit different on the private aviation side of the airport.

Vail Valley Jet Center General Manager Paul Gordon wrote that some airline customers have switched to private aviation during the pandemic.

Gordon wrote that private air traffic was down slightly over the Christmas holidays. But, he added, fewer people overall were traveling during that period.

Travelers pick up rental cars at the Eagle County Regional Airport on Christmas Day. December general aviation traffic declined just 1% compared to the same period in 2019.
Nate Peterson/npeterson@vaildaily.com

December saw more business jet operators flying flight crews back home for the holidays, and didn’t leave aircraft or crews in the valley compared to previous years.

December general aviation traffic declined just 1% compared to the same period in 2019. But, Gordon added, general aviation traffic grew in January of this year, ending the month 5% higher than the same period in 2020.

There was a “significant increase” in traffic over the Presidents Day weekend, a trend that has continued through February.

Ultimately, Gordon wrote, “The snow will be the most important ingredient for the rest of our ski season.”

By the numbers

36%: Decline from 2019 in December enplanements at the Eagle County Regional Airport.

32%: Decline from 2020 in January enplanements at the country airport.

23%: Overall 2020 decline from 2019.

60%: National decline in 2020 enplanements from 2019.

Source: Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid.

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