Flying high in the summertime |

Flying high in the summertime

David Younts, a restaurateur from Miami who owns a second home in Beaver Creek, flew through New York last week en route to Eagle County Regional Airport just to avoid Denver International Airport.”We couldn’t get on a non-stop (from Miami to Eagle), so we had to fly through New York, which is still preferable to flying into Denver,” Younts says. “(DIA’s) a nice airport and I love it, but it adds two and half hours of travel and you have to deal with the weather (on I-70).”Younts keeps a car in Beaver Creek and uses it for the quick 20-minute drive to the Eagle airport, which in the winter is a bustling ski resort hub that sees dozens of Boeing 757s land each day, packed with skiers bound for Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen.But in the summer it’s a totally different story.Last ski season, when about 40 percent of Vail and Beaver Creek’s destination skiers flew into Eagle, the airport recorded 318,068 passengers compared to 21,584 during the summer. And all of those summer flights were on small Air Wisconsin (United Express) turbo-prop flights between Eagle and DIA. There are none of the direct winter flights on large commercials airliners to cities like New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Dallas.Now a former Vail Resorts marketing and air service specialist is spearheading an effort by Eagle County to change all of that. Kent Myers, who was instrumental in landing many of the major carriers in Eagle when he worked for the ski company in the early 1990s, insists there is a market for direct flights on American Airlines between Dallas and Eagle in the summer.Myers has raised $300,000 of a $500,000 flight guarantee American is seeking by a Jan. 15 deadline, hitting up real estate and development firms, rental car companies and a coalition of hotels for $150,000 and the county for the other $150,000.Despite seeing a similar program also on American and also on 757’s fizzle in 1994 due to a lack of passengers, Myers is convinced 2003 will be a different story.”There’s a larger second homeowner base (now), more golf courses, more activities, the Vilar Center (for the Arts in Beaver Creek) and we have the Dallas Symphony Orchestra,” says Myers, who adds that after Colorado, Dallas provides Vail with the most second-home owners. “I feel summer flights will overwhelmingly be supported by the second homeowner market.”Younts owns a chain of East Coast steak houses and doesn’t get out to Beaver Creek in the summer as much as he’d like because of the lack of air service. “I think it’s sorely needed,” he says. “There are a lot of people like me who would love (better summer air service).”With United Airlines mired in bankruptcy proceedings and seeking to dissolve its contract with several small airports like Eagle, the future of its United Express summer service between Denver and Eagle is uncertain. But Myers contends that the Denver route is not a viable option for the growing number of business travelers living in the mountains.He cites a business meeting he had in Dallas last summer, when it would have cost him $980 to fly United Express to DIA then on to Dallas, compared to $240 direct from Denver to Dallas.Myers is proposing one flight a day from June 15 to Labor Day this summer. At $260 roundtrip, he says the flights will need to be 65 percent full to work financially compared to 70-75 percent load factors in the winter.Besides the large number of second homeowners, Myers says Dallas makes sense for this program because it’s an American hub with connections throughout the country. And he adds it would be a huge marketing boon for the Vail area to say it’s one of only three Colorado cities (after Denver and Colorado Springs) with direct flights from Dallas in the summer.Show me the moneyIn addition to several local hotels and rental car companies, Myers has commitments from development company East West Partners, the Beaver Creek Resort Company and Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate, the valley’s largest residential real estate brokerage.He scrapped plans for a travel bank program that would have allowed small businesses and private individuals to contribute to the flight guarantees in exchange for travel vouchers, saying he wanted to focus on the valley’s municipalities and bigger businesses. He has meetings scheduled in the next week with Vail Resorts, which already has large sums tied up in guaranteeing winter flights, and Town of Vail officials.But the cash-strapped Town of Vail may be a tough sell, at least according to two of its council members.”I believe that the town contributes both property tax and sales tax to the county for exactly this kind of initiative,” says council member Greg Moffet, a Vail businessman who says he does support the concept of summer flights, “but additionally we contribute $1.5 million to $2 million in marketing and we’re the only government doing that in an organized way and we’re going to build a $55 million conference center funded solely by Vail taxpayers.”That 50,000-square-foot facility isn’t scheduled to be up and running until 2005, but county commissioner Arn Menconi says it’s a prime reason Vail should step up to financially support summer flights. “I think in order for the conference center to be successful, there has to be a lot of flights coming into (Eagle) in the summer,” Menconi says.Vail Town Council member Diana Donovan isn’t so sure.”I think a lot more people drive here in the summer and a lot of these wealthy people fly in on private planes,” Donovan says of second homeowners. “I don’t think the town has the money, and I think the county should do it all. If they want to take all the credit, they should pay the bill.”Menconi says the Dallas flights will be a community-wide economic benefit that the entire community should support with its wallets.”The county has gotten the word from the community that they want this, and the county has stepped up with the lion’s share of the money and now we need to fill in an additional $200,000.”County commissioner Tom Stone says the increase in drive-market travelers and the growing pressure on I-70 in the peak travel months of July and August is exactly why better summer air service is needed.”With all of the traffic problems on Interstate 70, the more people who can fly directly to us who don’t have to fly into Denver and rent a car, that gets that many more people off the road,” Stone says. “It’s a partial solution to the I-70 traffic problem at a time when there’s the most traffic on the interstate.”

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