Summer flight program a success, county officials say
Although Eagle County lost some money on the new summer flight program this year, county officials are calling it a “complete success.”
Eagle County, which with several local businesses and governments came up with a financial guarantee, will have to pay less than $25,000 to American Airlines for seats unsold on this summer’s flights between Dallas and Eagle, said Kent Myers, the local organizer of the program.
The county guaranteed the first $150,000 of the $475,000 that American Airlines requested to provide the direct service that ended Sept. 1.
“Typically, the first year, (the guarantors) have to pay the entire cap, which in this case would have been $475,000,” Myers said. “This is a terrific program.”
Businesses that pledged money to the summer flight program already know they won’t have to come up with the dollars they committed.
“We had made a mental commitment that we thought it would take three years to accomplish this level of service,” County Commissioner Tom Stone said. “It only took one year.”
Although the county will have to pay some money, Commissioner Michael Gallagher said the county definitely gained more than that from the summer visitors.
About 21,000 of the 26,000 seats on this summer’s flights were sold. The program also offered fares that were in many cases competitive with those from Denver – in a few cases there were some that were lower, Myers said.
Myer’s used the term “load factor” to mean the amount of seats filled on the flights.
“The load factor was 79 percent and that’s very good for a summer program that just started,” he said. “If we had been able to charge $2.50 more per roundtrip ticket, we’d have broken even, that is how close we came.”
Myers, who still is expecting official numbers from American Airlines, is meeting with the county commissioners Tuesday to recap the program and make plans for next year.
“It was a very successful program,” Gallagher said. “I’d like to continue it next summer.”
The community also is overwhelmingly willing to support the program again, Myers said. “I already have some pledges back,” he said.
Myers also said the program should be expanded. “We could fly a smaller aircraft during the day from the end of May until the end of September from Dallas,” he said.
This year, the program ran from June 14 to Sept. 1.
“We’re looking at several options. We have approached Continental Airlines to possibly add another flight to Houston and America West would fly to Phoenix,” Myers said. “On Tuesday, I expect to get from the commissioners a sense of direction on how they want to grow this program.”
Stone said he’s confident the county will bring the direct flight service back next year.
“I don’t know about expanding,” Stone said. “There are a couple of decisions we need to make. Just because this was successful that doesn’t imply we can expand. There may be a limit as to how many people are going to fly in the summer.
“We need to look at what other cities would have a large draw,” he added. “We chose Dallas because we thought it would be a large market.”
American Airlines’ Dallas-Fort Worth hub connected travelers from Eagle County to 28 cities in the United States, including, Boston, New York, Orlando, Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Businesses and governments making pledges to the guarantee this year included: East-West Partners; the Vail Valley Jet Center; Vail Resorts; the towns of Gypsum, Avon and Vail; Beaver Creek Resort Company; Beaver Creek Resort merchants; Cordillera; Sonnenalp Resort of Vail; Slifer; Smith and Frampton; and Dollar Rent-A-Car.
“The program was successful because of the leadership of the county, the marketing from the local community, the cooperation of American Airlines on pricing and our ability to manage the flights,” Myers said.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at
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