Summer flights program rolling right along
“I already have a couple airlines interested in flying here,” Myers says. “We’ll announce the names and routes before the end of the year.”
Myers has been negotiating with major airlines for daily, nonstop flights to Eagle County from Houston, Dallas and Chicago.
Expanding the summer flights program is critical to the county’s economic development, says Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad. And Dick Gustafson, a former county commissioner who acts as a consultant on airport issues, says each passenger coming through the airport brings about $1,700 of economic activity to the county.
Myers also is looking at ways to finance a $300,000 guarantee for the program – the county commissioners already have agreed to advance $150,000 – and the $500,000 needed for marketing.
Additional funding could come from businesses in the valley, including East West Partners, Vail/Beaver Creek Jet Center, Beaver Creek Resort Company, hotels and property management companies, and the towns of Vail and Avon.
To support the summer flights, Myers also is proposing a travel bank that would allow locals, second-home owners and local businesses make a pledge to purchase air tickets in advance. The program would be aimed at securing air service and competitive fares to small airports.
“We expect to raise $1 million with the travel bank,” Myers says. “This is another way to attract the airlines. To build this program, we need the support from the community.”
A marketing campaign, called Fly Vail Summer, is also on its way.
Eagle County is developing a Web site for the campaign to which businesses and the community could link their sites. The Fly Vail Summer site would provide updates, flight schedules, links to airlines for reservations and travel bank information, Myers says.
“We’ll probably start with 179 seats a day. In the winter, the airport gets about 2,200 seats a day,” Myers says. “We want to be at 500 seats a day. This is going to be a two- to three-year project.”
It would cost an additional $75 over Denver fares to fly to Eagle in the summer, Myers says.
“We have a great opportunity here,” Myers says. “Other small airports in Colorado are looking at similar programs. In Gunnison County, residents have made a long-term financial commitment to have year-round flight service.”
In November, Gunnison County voters approved both the creation of a Rural Transportation Authority and a tax increase that will help fund year-round flights, says Myers, who also is Gunnison County’s airline consultant.
Beginning Jan. 1, a sales-tax increase will take effect in the city of Gunnison and the county that aims to raise about $1 million annually. The money will be funneled directly into the authority to to increase service into Gunnison County’s airport, which services the Crested Butte ski area.
“As a newcomer, I see the infrastructure and the market in place for this program,” says Mark Davidson, the new Eagle County Regional Airport director.
The Eagle County airport also is on the fast track to get an agent from the U.S. Customs Service and become an international airport – initially for private aviation. And construction of a new air traffic control tower at the airport is set to begin in March.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a travel bank?
A travel bank is a program in which a person or a company can make a dollar pledge to purchase air tickets in advance. This program is aimed at securing air service and competitive fares to small airports. A financial commitment is made by depositing money into the travel bank that can only be used towards purchases with a special credit card through the airline flying into the airport.
There are at least half a dozen airports in the country that are implementing travel banks. This is how the proposed travel bank would work in Eagle County:
– Pledge agreements and smart-card application would be available on the Fly Vail Summer Web site and throughout the community – banks, information centers, etc.
– Smart/credit cards would be issued.
– Charges against the card would be made in five equal payments, beginning with the first statement. For example, for a total pledge of $5,000, a $1,000 charge for five months would be billed to the account and shown as a credit on the monthly statements.
– As cardholder purchases air travel, the card is debited the corresponding amount.
– If cardholder purchases more than the credit amount the net amount would be charged the next month.
– If the individual does not fulfill the pledge amount, the credit remains in place for the next summer season.
– Veronica Whitney