Summer flights could begin in June
Kent Myers of Airplanners LLC., who was hired by Eagle County officials to develop the summer flights program, said Thursday he’s close to finalizing an agreement with American Airlines for daily flights from Dallas to the Eagle County airport. Almost a decade ago, Myers also put together the original deals for Vail Resorts to provide regular ski season airline service into Eagle County.American Airlines is requesting $500,000 in seat guarantees. Initially Myers offered a $300,000 guarantee, plus a travel bank program that will allow locals, second homeowners and businesses make a dollar pledge to purchase airline tickets in advance. Travel bank money could be used for flights with American Airlines any time of the year, not just the summer, he said.The program is aimed at securing air service and competitive fares to small airports, Myers said.The target price of a roundtrip ticket to Dallas could be about $260, Myers said. The flights would run from June 15 until just after Labor Day.Both sides said they’re confident the gap can be bridged before the Jan. 15 deadline.”This is a good deal, with the perfect cities in terms of connections,” Myers said.In an e-mail to Myers from American Airlines officials negotiating the deal, they also said they expected an agreement to be reached before next month’s deadline.”The question is, does the community want to rally?” Myers said. “The program will need support of businesses and residents.”So far, program organizers have raised $280,000. The county commissioners agreed to advance $150,000 to subsidize the flights; East-West Partners, the Vail/Beaver Creek Jet Center and Vail Resorts contributed another $130,000 total.Additional funding could come from Beaver Creek Resort Company, hotels and property management companies, and the towns of Vail and Avon, Myers said.In addition to the seat guarantee money, Myers also needs to raise $500,000 for a “Fly Vail Summer” marketing campaign.American Airlines’ Dallas hub would connect travelers from Eagle County with 28 U.S. cities including, Boston, New York, Orlando, Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as Zurich, Switzerland.Although the program will start with 170 seats a day, Myers said the goal is to be at 500 seats a day in two to three years. In the winter, the airport gets about 2,200 seats a day guaranteed.Myers received proposals from American Airlines and Continental Airlines. He chose American Airlines because the company would fly a Boeing 757, that will carry more than 170 passengers. Continental Airlines offered to fly a Boeing 737 with a capacity of 130 passengers.Commissioner Arn Menconi said the county also can work more aggressively with its partners to bring the Dallas-Eagle flights.”We have until Jan. 15 for all interested parties to raise the guarantee to make this happen,” he said. “This program will be successful, and probably only half of the guarantee will be used.””Expanding the summer flights program is critical to the county’s economic development,” said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad said.Each passenger coming through the airport brings about $1,700 of economic activity to the county, said Dick Gustafson, a former county commissioner, who acts as a consultant on airport issues.”This program is very important for the valley,” said Kelli McDonald, with the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau. “It means more access to our summer product. It’s a convenience factor in terms of travelling.”Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.