Summer flights help set new airport record |

Summer flights help set new airport record

Cliff Thompson

GYPSUM -Pumped up by new summer flights, the number of commercial passengers using the Eagle County Airport set a new record in 2004.The 2004 total of 193,382 breaks the old mark of 188,745 set in 2000 by 2.6 percent. But even comparing the 2003 numbers to the 2004 numbers isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison because of the boosted summer flight schedule last year. And when winter 2004’s passenger numbers are compared to 2000’s, the numbers are somewhat less flashy.During what’s considered ski season (January to April, and December) in 2000, 175,900 passengers used the airport – 10.5 percent more than during the same months in 2004, when 159,221 used the airport. But during winter of 2004 there were 6 percent more passengers than there were during the same period in 2003, when 149,881 passengers used the airport. In December 2004, the passenger total -21,571 – was up 14 percent over 2003 – and was 16 percent greater than Dec. 2000. And a year-over-year comparison shows 2004 passenger totals increased 13 percent over 2003’s 170,601 passengers.Two factors have contributed to the increase. Good snow and a recovering economy.”The national economy is improving for air travel,” said Jack Ingstad, county administrator. We feel like it’s returning to pre 9-11 levels. It’s nice news.”It was the summer flights in 2004 that brought 27,294 passengers to the county and helped push the passenger total to a new record. In 2000, when summer flights were still an iffy proposition, only 8,379 people used commercial air service at the airport during the summer. Direct flights, using mostly 757s, connect Eagle County’s ski slopes to major metropolitan areas like New York, Newark, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Houston and Los Angeles. Passenger numbers are used by local businesses as an indicator of the health of the ski season.”We think it’s a significant part of our success in the destination market,” said Bill Jensen of Vail Resorts. “The convenience of travel is the key to vacation decisions. In the winter time we’ve had a long history of subsidizing flights here.”Ski resorts report more than one-third of the destination skiers to Vail and Beaver Creek use the direct flights. Last summer, an expanded summer flight schedule, complete with a public/private cash-incentive program to the airlines, was put in place. The summer flights, which begin in June and run through early September using 757s, connect the Eagle County Airport with Denver and Dallas/Ft. Worth. Those flights are expected to continue this summer.Snowstorms closed the Eagle Airport twice this during 2004, both in the winter. The first closure happened on one of the busiest departure days for holiday guests, Jan. 3 and the second, Dec. 29. Both eroded the number of passengers using the facility in 2004.More than 70,000 people using private and charter aircraft also used the facility last year, bringing the annual passenger use to 263,000.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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