Eagle Valley Enterprise
Vail, CO Colorado
GYPSUM, Colorado – The Eagle County Regional Airport might be classified as an international airport by 2013.
However, that goal largely depends on how much money Kent Myers and the Eagle Air Alliance can raise in the next month and a half.
Myers is the president of Airplanners, a consulting firm and a member of the Air Alliance, which is a public-private partnership of Eagle County municipalities and businesses. In recent months, Myers has approached the county and several town boards as he spearheads an effort to raise about $525,000, which would be used to attract additional air service to Eagle County.
There are five markets Myers is hoping to tap, starting next summer with service from Houston and Chicago. For the 2012-13 winter season, Myers is looking at Toronto, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
“But I have to know how much financial backing I have before I go to the airlines,” said Myers, who is a former Vail Resorts executive. “I’ll know how much we have after my meetings with the private community in the next 45 days.”
The money will be used to guarantee hard dollars to an airline starting new service to the area. Myers said minimizing an airline’s financial risk is the key to getting it to try a new market and it’s exactly how he helped expand service here starting in 2002, when commercial summer service started.
“Ideally, the airline tries the market, finds it to be successful and then decides to continue the service on its own tab (without the guarantee of hard dollars),” Myers said.
That’s what happened with American Airlines, which picked up continual summer service after its trial period.
Besides the hard dollars the Air Alliance will guarantee, the airport is offering an incentive of waived landing fees for summer 2012 and winter 2012-13. Carriers that provide a new nonstop service in either season will qualify. “Nonstop service” means at least one flight per week for the entire season.
Earlier this year, Myers pitched his “three-year strategic plan” to Vail, Avon, Beaver Creek, Eagle and Gypsum. He asked the municipalities for pledges of $30,000 each, in addition to what he hoped would be $125,000 from Eagle County. So far, he’s coming up a little short on those goals.
Vail and Gypsum have pledged the full $30K, and Beaver Creek Resort Co. is likely to pledge that amount, as well – but not all of the municipalities jumped on board right away.
It was an easy decision for Gypsum, however.
“It’s in the budget for next year,” said Gypsum’s town manager, Jeff Shroll. “For us, it’s a no-brainer.”
Shroll cited the fact that the airport is in Gypsum and a lot of its employees live there, in addition to the car-rental business that benefits the town’s tax base.
Eagle opted to pledge at least $10,000 and as much as $15,000, depending on what the Eagle business community pledges.
“We will match whatever the businesses pledge, up to $15,000,” said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell.
Avon anticipates a $6,000 pledge.
The county’s pledge of waived landing fees amounts to $102,000.
“We could use general fund dollars, as well, but we’re not doing that now,” said County Commissioner Jon Stavney. “We have to be careful how we work with the Air Alliance because of regulations, so we’re kind of dovetailing with them. We are in full support of growing the airport and are excited about any way to bring more people into Eagle County.”
Though his public-entity funding goals have fallen a bit short to date, Myers is not losing confidence as he turns his attention to the private sector.
“I think I can do it,” he said of raising the money. “I always do.”
If Myers achieves the funding goal of $525,000, five new markets could be possible, starting with two next summer – Houston and Chicago.
Eagle County saw summer service from Chicago in 2007 and 2008, but the airport was closed for the runway expansion in 2009.
“We couldn’t talk them into picking up the service again in 2010,” Myers said.
Eagle County still has a good shot at those summer markets, he said, citing the more appealing summer weather, as well as the number of second-home owners in those areas.
“Second-home owners drive a lot of business,” Myers said. “Not only do they come here, they often bring in visitors, as well – friends who travel here separately to spend time with them.”
For the winter 2012-13 target markets, the Air Alliance is looking at San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Toronto.
“They’re all international hubs, which means flights are always going to and from there,” Myers said.
Eagle County also has seen San Francisco flight service before, years ago.
“Vail Resorts tried this program, but it didn’t work out then. Now seems better,” Myers said.
Toronto is the gem on the target market list.
“Toronto is unique because of its population base and its thriving economy, and you can clear U.S. Customs at the terminal there,” Myers said. “That means once you step on the plane bound for Eagle, you’re effectively in the U.S. and that is a huge convenience – and then we can say that we have an international airport.”
For now, however, it’s all still a dream of possibilities. Eagle County, the Air Alliance and Myers will have to wait and see what happens between now and January before proceeding with a plan based on actual dollars, rather than financial pledges.