Summertime Denver flight returns to Eagle airport
Commuter flights between United Airlines’ Denver hub and Eagle County airport with 757 jets will begin this summer after a two-year bankruptcy-caused estrangement with Eagle County.
That will bring the number of summer flights linking the county with hub cities to three. American Airlines brought direct flights from Dallas to Eagle County last summer along with a Continental flight from Houston that should start this summer.
Denver-based United is now emerging from bankruptcy, but in 2002, it withdrew its flights to the Eagle County Airport as part of that bankruptcy reorganization after it had signed a long-term agreement with the county to lease space at the airport’s new terminal. The county was depending on the airline’s service because it had finished a $20 million expansion of the commercial air terminal at the facility, but it successfully scrambled to recoup the revenue.
“This puts us more on the map every day,” said Commissioner Tom Stone. “This is true economic development. United’s 757s will help us connect to major cities throughout the United States.”
The thaw in the relationship between the county and United came from a fortunate and timely change in jobs by former Vail Resorts’ marketing director Martin White, who moved to United Airlines earlier this year and became the vice president of marketing there. He and County Commissioner Arn Menconi kept in touch and began to explore bringing the carrier’s planes back to Eagle County and very quickly were able to strike an agreement.
“It’s not every day you can make a cell-phone call to a vice president at United Airlines and make something happen,” Menconi said.
The county has to guarantee the carrier $262,000 for the 97 days it will provide air service to Eagle during the summer. That works out to approximately 49 passengers per airplane, said Jack Ingstad, county administrator.
Stone said the flights to Denver from Eagle, which will take approximately 45 minutes, have a high likelihood of financial success. They will start June 3 and run through Sept. 7.
“They will serve both the people and businesses of Eagle County,” he said.
Last summer the county underwrote a $475,000 flight guarantee to American Airlines for its daily flights to Dallas. The county ended up paying $20,000 in guarantees, but cleared approximately $150,000 in flight-related money. Ingstad said nearly 60 percent of the passengers on last summer’s Dallas flights were from connecting flights, not just from Dallas.
The increase in summer flights should bolster traffic at the Eagle County Airport which in 2003 saw 171,601 passengers – a slight decline from 2002’s numbers. In the largest year, 1998, 188,745 passengers used the airport.
An instrument landing system will be installed at the facility this summer that should increase the number of aircraft able to land and depart during inclement weather. When skies are clear, the number of aircraft able to use the facility is 12 to 16 per-hour. When the stormy weather hits, that can decline to six per hour.
Cliff Thompson can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.