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Summer program makes money

Veronica Whitney
Daily file photoFlyVail, the daily flight program which ran from June 14 to Sept. 1, from Dallas to the Eagle County Regional Airport, brought more than $180,000 to the airport.
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Despite having to pay some guarantee money to American Airlines, Eagle County will make money with this year’s summer flight program, county officials said.

The daily flight program, which ran from June 14 to Sept. 1, from Dallas to the Eagle County Regional Airport, brought more than $180,000 to the Eagle County Regional Airport and the Eagle County Air Terminal Corporation. The Eagle County Air Terminal Corporation, or ECAT, oversees and has responsibilities for the new airport terminal.

“This program hasn’t cost the taxpayers anything. The community has made money on this,” said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad.



According to official numbers, this summer the airport made $130,000 more than the summer of 2002 while ECAT made $43,000 more. Another $6,500 came from sales tax on car rentals.

Unofficial estimates also puts the sales tax revenue from visitors at about $30,000, said Kent Myers, the local organizer of the program.



Eagle County and several local businesses and governments came up with a $475,000 guarantee for the service, as demanded by American Airlines. The county, which guaranteed the first $150,000, will have to pay less than $25,000 to American Airlines for seats unsold, Myers said.

Businesses and governments that pledged money to the summer flight program won’t have to come up with the dollars they committed.

Becoming regional



The FlyVail Summer program also showed that the county airport is truly becoming a regional airport, Myers said.

People using the service to and from Dallas came from Basalt, Carbondale and Rifle while 6 percent of the passengers who had accommodations stayed in Glenwood Springs or Aspen. About 21,000 of the 26,000 seats available in the FlyVail Summer program were sold, that’s about 79 percent. Myers said some 12,000 people used the service, some travelling one way, others both ways.

“This program has been an incredible success in Eagle County,” Myers said. “The first year of a program like this, the guarantors have to pay the entire cap.”

Crested Butte, which had a similar but smaller program for the first time this summer with flights from Houston, will have to pay the full $200,000 of their guarantee.

“That was because of the marketing,” Myers said. “Eagle County has a much stronger marketing program because of the hotels, businesses and marketing organizations.

“But it’s hard to know what percentage of the 12,000 people that use the program wouldn’t have come if they hadn’t had the flight service,” he said. “The estimate we took to estimate sales tax is conservative and based on a 30 percent of the total travellers using the program.”

The program’s future

Myers, who met with the county commissioners last week to discuss the future of the program, said he already has pledges from some businesses for next summer. American Airlines again is offering to fly a daily Boeing 757 – about 160 passengers – and reduce the guarantee cap to $200,000.

“I think there’s more room to expand the program because 50 percent of the flights ran at 85 percent capacity or more,” Myers told the commissioners.

The expansion could come by:

– Lengthening the season.

– Adding more frequencies.

– Servicing a new hub.

In addition to the American Airlines flight, Myers is talking to Continental Airlines to fly from Houston and America West to fly from Phoenix. Another option would be that Great Plains airlines flies a smaller plane to Dallas introducing more daily flights.

“You give clients more options by introducing more times,” Myers said.

County Commissioner Michael Gallagher said he would like to continue at least last year’s summer program with American Airlines.

“We need to take all this information into account. If we can expand it, let’s do it,” he said.

Now that the program has proved to be a success, County Commissioner Tom Stone said he’d like to see local businesses take over the program.

“That’s one of the options we need to explore,” he said. “Maybe the county was a jump start.”

Myers also said he plans to expand the program by adding research.

“This year we didn’t do any research,” he said. Next year, Myers said, he plans to ask businesses to commit 10 percent of their pledges to go to research.

“Last year we had $325,000 in pledges, that means we would get $32,500 up front for research,” he said.

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.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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