New winter flights eyed for Eagle County airport
Here’s a look at airlines flying to the Eagle County Regional Airport this summer:
• United Airlines from Denver.
There’s one daily flight now, arriving at 8:40 p.m. A second flight begins July 1 and arrives at noon.
• American Airlines from Dallas.
That daily flight began June 2 and runs until Oct. 5.
• United Airlines from Houston.
That flight begins June 23. Flights are scheduled on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
• American Airlines from Los Angeles: That flight is on Saturdays only.
EAGLE COUNTY — The long process of re-building commercial passenger numbers at the Eagle County Regional Airport could take a big step forward this summer.
A combination of the 2008 national economic slump, airline consolidation and a switch to smaller aircraft have all contributed to a steep drop in passenger numbers from those seen a decade or so ago. Rebuilding that business has taken time and, more important, money for revenue guarantees airlines demand when starting new routes.
The EGE Air Alliance, a group of government and business interests, a few years ago started its efforts to re-build the airport’s passenger numbers with a United Airlines summer flight from Houston. That effort required a revenue guarantee of not quite $450,000, a number that’s fallen as more passengers have boarded those jets.
The alliance’s efforts have expanded, and are now focused on the winter months. That’s when most people want to fly into the valley, so that’s where the most opportunity is.
The alliance’s efforts have paid off with some new winter flights, including service from Toronto and Chicago. But alliance members and airport officials are still working to land service from some of the valley’s bigger destination markets.
Those efforts may bear some substantial fruit this summer. Negotiations are continuing to land a winter flight from Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia. The deal isn’t final yet, but the alliance recently allocated money for a revenue guarantee for a 15-week schedule.
Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet is a member of the air alliance board. He told Vail council members about the possible flight from Washington at that group’s Tuesday meeting.
A big, unserved market
“That’s the biggest unserved market for Vail,” Moffet said, adding that since Washington’s Dulles International Airport is a hub airport, “It also opens up a ton of other connections.”
Moffet told the council that the alliance is also negotiating for a winter flight from Phoenix. If that deal is finalized, the service would be three times a week on a smaller, regional jet. Service from Phoenix, another hub airport, could bring in passengers from a host of other cities.
Alliance board member Mike Brumbaugh said the flight from Washington is a “huge deal — that’s a top-10 market for the valley.”
But Brumbaugh, an Eagle resident, said he’s particularly excited about the prospect of service to and from Phoenix.
“From my perspective, say I want to go to Santa Barbara (California) or Las Vegas,” Brumbaugh said. “If I can fly to Phoenix, then catch a flight (to those cities), that’s great.”
On the other hand, a flight to Phoenix would have to be priced at least in the same neighborhood as a flight from Denver.
“If the tickets are $500 from Eagle and $200 from Denver, I’m going to Denver,” Brumbaugh said. But if tickets (from Eagle) are $100 more, that’s a no-brainer.”
All about connections
Brumbaugh noted that the connections available at Phoenix could be a significant draw for passengers. Those passengers could even come from Mexico, a market largely served now by American Airlines’ long-running daily flights from Dallas.
Again, though, deals aren’t final for these flights, and deals sometimes fly through.
The alliance a few months ago announced a deal for a ski season flight on Allegiant Airlines from Oakland, California. Pilot-training issues scuttled the plan.
And Eagle County Aviation Director Greg Phillips said the future is in doubt for the flight from Toronto, given that current exchange rates between Canadian and U.S. currency have made vacations here significantly more expensive for travelers there. “But we’re excited about the opportunity we have here,” Phillips said of the potential for the flights from Washington D.C. and Phoenix.
Even as the final work is done on the possible new winter flights, there’s still more work to do. Phillips said he and Vail Resorts Airlines Program Manager Gabe Shalley will next week meet in Denver with representatives of 10 airlines, pitching the virtues of service into Eagle County.
But, Phillips said, the competition is stiff for routes into smaller airports.
“The top 65 airports in the country carry 89 percent of all passenger traffic,” Phillips said. With about 400 commercial airports in the U.S., that leaves a lot of facilities vying for the rest of those passengers.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.
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