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Valley connected to two new cities

Veronica Whitney

Visitors to the Vail Valley this winter will have a sixth air carrier and two new major hubs to fly from.

Starting Dec. 20, and running through April 4, US Airways on weekends will fly a Boeing 757 non-stop between Eagle County Regional Airport and Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C.

The addition of US Airways means that passengers from 14 cities in the United States will be able to fly direct to the county airport.

“This addition means two more hubs and more direct service to major cities in the U.S.,” said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad. “It also opens up an expanded market for us.”

So far, Northwest, Continental, Delta, American and United Express have offered direct service from New York City, Newark, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Denver.

“It is unheard of that an airport of this size has service to most major U.S. cities and six major carriers,” Ingstad said. “Due to recent growth at the airport, we’ve used all available airline counter space. US Airways’ arrival is taking us to a new phase in the airport’s development.”

Vail Resorts, which already provides financial guarantees for some of the winter flights coming to the county airport, is providing a revenue guarantee on the new US Airways flights, said Kelly Ladyga, spokeswoman for Vail Resorts.

“In total, we’re on the hook for $1 to $2 million for those flights that have revenue guarantee,” she said.

Charlotte and Philadelphia, Ladyga said, not only offer Vail Resorts two new markets for destination skiers and snowboarders, but also many connecting markets in the East Coast including Newark, La Guardia, Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

“We’re already on the way with marketing programs in those cities to bring skiers to our resorts this winter,” she said.

US Airways is the nation’s seventh-largest airline, flying to nearly 200 cities in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Most of its route network is concentrated in the eastern U.S., where it is the largest air carrier east of the Mississippi.

“Vail and Beaver Creek are world-class ski destinations, drawing international and domestic visitors alike,” said Daniel M. McDonald, US Airways vice president of planning and scheduling. “The feed provided through our codeshare relationship with United, combined with our strong East Coast presence, supports our ability to begin new service to such a premier Western U.S. destination.”

In addition to the new contract with US Airways, Ingstad said Northwest, Continental, Delta and United Express have assured they will sign three-year leases to service the county airport.

“So far, they’ve been operating year to year. American was the only one on a long’term lease,” Ingstad said. “These new long-term contracts assure us that we will have five airlines for the next three years, and hopefully US Airways will stay longer than a year.

“It’s important to have these long-term commitments to repay the bonds for the terminal,” Ingstad added.

The Eagle County Air Terminal Corporation still owes a total of $22 million on two sets of bonds. One, issued in 1996, was for the terminal construction. The second was issued in 2001 for the terminal expansion.

Airport traffic was so good this year, that the corporation was able to make an additional $220,000 payment on the bonds, said Mike Roeper, county finance director.

This was the second time since 1996 the corporation has been able to make an additional payment.

At a glance

US Airways will have a new direct service between Eagle County and Charlotte and Philadelphia, Dec. 20 through April 4.

– The Charlotte service will operate Saturdays, departing Charlotte at 8:30 a.m. and arriving in Eagle at 10:28 a.m. The Saturday return flight will leave Eagle at 11:40 a.m. and arrive in Charlotte at 4:45 p.m.

– The Philadelphia service will operate Saturday and Sunday, departing Philadelphia at 9:45 a.m. and arriving at 12:14 p.m. Return flights on both days will leave Eagle at 1:15 p.m. and arrive in Philadelphia at 6:42 p.m.

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


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