Grant request aims to add flights for Eagle airport
A busier airport is the goal of the county’s pitch for federal funds it hopes to use to keep planes flying to the valley while luring more passengers and airlines to the mountains. The county has applied for a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would be used to promote the airport and guarantee revenues for airlines running passenger flights here, said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad. The county – with help from local businesses, town governments, Vail Resorts and the airlines – would match the federal funds, Ingstad said.”The program’s goal is to encourage air service with the idea that it will become profitable and will not need subsidies,” Ingstad said.Many airlines demand subsidies, or revenue guarantees, to fly in and out of the airport. Last summer, the county pledged the initial $150,000 of a $475,000 guarantee to support a daily American Airlines flight from Dallas. Various towns and businesses pledged $325,000 to support the service and, according to all involved, the flight was a success. The county paid the airline $20,000 of the guarantee, but none of the other partners were liable.
This year, the county will assume the entire guarantee for the Dallas flight. In addition, the county this summer will back the expenses of a United Airlines flight from Denver.”The grant would assist us with shaky air service that needs a couple more years to become more successful,” Ingstad said.The county’s grant proposal includes plans to continue to expand summer and year-round service with flights from Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Columbus and New York, Ingstad said.”The program would also help to bring competition that keeps airfares down,” Ingstad said.
If the county gets the grant, the goals of the program could be accomplished in the next three years, Ingstad said.”Without the federal grant, it would be hard to do this,” he said. “There’s only so much money the county and the community have.”Vail Resorts, which helped the county with the proposal, has agreed to help match funds if the grant is approved, though the company has said it does not want to continue paying the subsidies much longer. “Our ultimate goal is not to spend any money on airline guarantees,” said Chris Jarnot, vice president of sales and marketing for Vail Resorts.
This year, the company will pay about $1.5 million for last winter’s flights into the valley, Jarnot said. “We want the air service to grow, but we want the new programs to be self-supportive,” Jarnot said.”We’ve also asked local businesses to write to the Department of Transportation in support of the grant,” Jarnot added. “The department likes to see broad-based support in the community.”The county is one of more than 60 small airports nationwide requesting funds from the so-called Small Community Air Service Development Program. There is $35 million available to distribute this year and Ingstad said he expects a decision on the grant by September.Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.