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Second summer flight grounded

Scott N. Miller

Never mind.

A once-heralded second summer flight into the Eagle County Regional Airport is probably dead, leaving backers looking to 2005.

A group of supporters including the valley’s big hotels, Vail Resorts and other business interests had come up with more than enough in potential subsidies to bring in a once-daily Continental Airlines flight from Houston, but that route has apparently been grounded.

The business group began seeking a second flight after Eagle County decided to be the sole backer for a second summer of American Airlines service from Dallas. That flight was successful in its debut last year, with the planes nearly 80 percent full. The airline asked for just $20,000 in county subsidies.

In pursuing another flight, service from Houston was actually the second choice for the local group, which had originally targeted a United Airlines flight from Chicago. That airline, which has only recently emerged from bankruptcy, had asked for roughly $650,000 to guarantee profitability of daily service with a Boeing 757 airliner. Continental was pledging service with a Boeing 737, a smaller plane, for a $250,000 guarantee.

Those guarantees assure the airline it will recoup at least some revenue if passenger levels fall short of projections.

Last week, Vail Resorts officials pulled the company’s financial support from the Houston flight, which essentially killed it.

Service from Houston might have pulled enough passengers from the Dallas flight to put one or both in economic danger, said Chris Jarnot, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Vail Resorts.

The two airlines’ flights would have been offered to too many of the same potential customers to make good business sense, Jarnot said.

“If we took 10 percent of the customers off the Dallas flight, instead of a $20,000 loss, we’d be looking at a loss of $700,000 or $1 million,” Jarnot said. “With a loss like that, American might pull out of Eagle the next summer. We could potentially lose both flights.”

The local group is still looking for a second flight, Jarnot said.

“But if I was a betting man, I’d say the most likely thing is we look for a flight next summer,” he said.

Waiting until next year to try to land another summer flight is fine with Robert Dellain, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek. Even if a flight from Chicago could be arranged and loaded into an airline’s scheduling system in the next few weeks, there isn’t enough time to do the kind of marketing needed to make it a success, he said, adding that last year’s summer flight from Dallas was advertised for six months before the first plane landed.

While resigned to the reality of just the American flight for this summer, Dellain said it’s “very disappointing” to lose the Houston flight. “I don’t know why this happened at the 11th hour,” he said.

While the Dallas flight is the only big jet coming in from out of state, Jarnot said there will be two 757s flying in and out of Eagle County this summer. United announced last week it would bring in a daily 757 from Denver.

“Denver and Dallas isn’t a bad thing,” Jarnot said. “Denver isn’t a sexy destination, but it is doubling the seats coming into Eagle this summer, and it connects us with a lot of cities.”


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