Expansion of summer flight program on tap | VailDaily.com

Expansion of summer flight program on tap

Veronica Whitney
Pictured above is the first American Airlines Boeing 757 that landed in Eagle during this years' Fly Vail Summer program, with daily flights from Dallas-Fort Worth. County officials hope to expand the program next summer.

Despite having to pay $20,000 in guarantee money to American Airlines, Eagle County made money on this year’s inaugural program, county officials said.

“We’re really pleased with the success of the program. It exceeded our expectations,” said Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone. “We’re looking at adding other airlines, but it all depends on the cost. We are going to move forward prudently.”

The FlyVail summer program, in fact, made more than $180,000, said Kent Myers, the local organizer of the program.

Eagle County and several local businesses and governments came up with a $475,000 guarantee for the service as American Airlines requested. Businesses that pledged money to the summer flight program won’t have to come up with any of the dollars they committed.

The county had guaranteed the first $150,000 for seats unsold. Last summer’s program operated with the planes an average of 79 percent full, Myers said .

“I was predicting 80 percent,” Myers said. “This is fabulous for a program’s first year. This is my most successful summer program.”

Myers has organized four summer flight programs across the country and dozens of winter programs.

Future plans

Myers said he’s planning to meet with local business owners and community leaders in December to look at options for next year. He said he expected to have an announcement before Christmas.

“We’re looking at expanding the program,” Myers said. “We feel there is enough demand. When you have more than 50 percent of your flights 85 percent full that means you’ve got demand and there’s potential for growth. How much growth is the big question.”

So far, plans are to keep the same service with American Airlines to Dallas with some adjustments on dates, said Myers, who also said he’s been having conversations with three other airlines.

“American is very pleased with us and already has agreed to lower their cap substantially,” Myers said.

American Airlines again is offering to fly a daily Boeing 757 – about 160 passengers – and reduced the guarantee cap to $200,000.

“We would like to expand at least another hub city to the east,” Myers added. “That’s where 80 percent of the population is.”

In the future, Myers said, he’d like to see jet service year-round beyond Denver.

County Commissioner Michael Gallagher said he also supports the expansion of the summer flight program.

“We didn’t lose money, we made money. And the flights brought thousands of visitors to the valley,” Gallagher said. “Let’s get more flights and use the Eagle County Regional Airport, an exceptional facility.”

Early success

The daily flight program, which ran from June 14 to Sept. 1 from Dallas to the Eagle, brought more than $180,000 in revenue to Eagle County Regional Airport and the Eagle County Air Terminal Corporation. The Eagle County Air Terminal Corporation, or ECAT, oversees and has responsibilities for the new airport terminal.

According to official numbers from the airport, this summer the airport made $130,000 more than the summer of 2002, ECAT made $43,000 more and another $6,500 came from sales tax on car rentals.

Unofficial estimates also put the sales tax revenue from visitors at about $30,000, Myers said.

“Another advantage of the summer flight program is that it creates greater synergy at the airport,” Myers said. “It also opens up access from and to other towns like Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

“Now, we can tell visitors, “You can be in Vail, Colorado, in two hours.’ It’s much more convenient,” he added. “It impacts real estate and economic development.”

Stone said the county best serves the needs its residents by bringing in businesses.

“I’m in favor of expanding as long as it makes sense financially,” Stone said.

Pleasing passengers

American Airlines’ Dallas-Fort Worth hub connected travelers from Eagle County to 28 cities in the United States, including, Boston, New York, Orlando, Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Businesses and governments making pledges to the guarantee this year included: East-West Partners; the Vail Valley Jet Center; Vail Resorts; the towns of Gypsum, Avon and Vail; Beaver Creek Resort Company; Beaver Creek Resort merchants; Cordillera; Sonnenalp Resort of Vail; Slifer; Smith and Frampton; Dollar Rent-A-Car; Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa; Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch; The Resort Company; Vail Cascade Vail Resorts and the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau.

“The summer flight program was the most successful program we’ve been involved in,” said Tony O’Rourke of the Beaver Creek Resort Company. “It definitely drove destination guests into the Vail Valley, particularly to Beaver Creek.

“We love the idea of expanding the season and we would be enthralled with adding a flight to Houston,” O’Rourke said.

Harry Frampton of Slifer, Smith and Frampton Real Estate also said the program was a success.

“Eagle County and Kent Myers deserve a lot of credit. It was a good private-public partnership that exceeded our expectations,” Frampton said.

“For a lot of homeowners, it provided a quick way to come back and forth.

“It can grow and as it grows, it certainly can help the local real estate market,” he added. “New people would be more inclined to buy a property here with this service. In today’s world time is such a commodity to people.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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