Vail Daily column: New air service brings positive economic impact
Colorado’s continued growth and Vail and Beaver Creek’s continued tourism successes place rising demands on the Interstate 70 transportation corridor. Today’s increasingly challenging and increasingly crowded I- 70 corridor means that expanding air service into the Eagle County Regional Airport is essential in order for our community to make the most of our economic potential.
Enter the EGE Air Alliance. The EGE Air Alliance is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit entity dedicated to creating a vibrant flight service program at the Eagle County Regional Airport. The EGE Air Alliance is a public-private partnership with participants, including local municipalities and private business stakeholders.
Over 65 local businesses, and many public partners, are working together to increase air service and visitors coming through Eagle County. So much of our local economy, job market and businesses depends on the dollars spent by tourists and second homeowners who come through the Eagle County Regional Airport. Therefore, the local nonprofit organization EGE Air Alliance plays a real, significant role that directly impacts Eagle County’s residents and communities by working to increase nonstop flight access from key destination markets.
It’s incumbent upon EGE Air Alliance, working with our local governments and the local business community, to continue to grow air service into the airport. The fact is, commercial airlines will not add flights or make additional seats available into the Eagle County Regional Airport without additional funding. Air carriers have a lot of choices that are more profitable for them than Eagle, in our competing resort destinations throughout Colorado, Utah, and Montana and most — if not all — new air service will require some level of risk mitigation, typically in the form of a minimum revenue guarantee. It is the hope that after the initial year of operation that the required minimum revenue guarantee for any route would decrease and eventually subside. That has typically been the pattern, in fact, of every existing destination route at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Attracting new flights to our community is important, as more than one-third of our visitors arrive via Eagle County Airport and these guests are more likely to be repeat visitors with the potential to become second-home owners, thus benefiting the Eagle County economy. I-70 traffic to and from Denver is increasingly a guest service issue and convenience is of utmost importance to our visitors and second homeowners. Keep in mind that 47 percent of jobs in Eagle County are directly related to tourism and hospitality — and more visitors, spending more money, directly benefits our largest economic driver in addition to our local municipalities, who are dependent upon sales tax revenue to fund local services and infrastructure programs.
Good news: we’re making progress and recently announced new winter flight service to/from Phoenix and Washington, D.C., to the Eagle County Regional Airport. These flights are estimated to bring in 3,081 new passengers to Eagle County. This iimpacts our business community, as Eagle County Regional Airport winter users spend an average of $2,134 per guest, resulting in an estimated economic impact to Eagle County’s economy as a direct result of the new flight markets equal to $6,574,854. This is in addition to the economic impacts equaling $2,313,886 resulting from the continued Houston service supported by the Air Alliance.
Beginning this December, United Airlines will fly nonstop between its hub at Washington/Dulles and Eagle County Regional Airport. Until now, D.C. was the largest metropolitan skier market without nonstop service to Eagle County. Nonstop service to Washington/Dulles can connect to 49 connecting markets including other large markets without service (such as Boston).
December will also be the start of a new service from Phoenix to the Eagle County Regional Airport seven days a week. The nonstop flight will operate daily from Phoenix to the Eagle County Regional Airport beginning Thursday, Dec. 15; flights drop down to only Wednesday and Saturday on Jan. 9 and a Sunday flight gets added back on Feb. 19 through the end of the ski season on April 2, 2017. The flight will make convenient connections to points across the southwest possible including San Diego, Orange County, Santa Barbara, Ontario and Long Beach.
The new flight service from Washington, D.C. and Phoenix is great news for our economy, and provides travel opportunities for locals and visitors alike. Thank you to the local businesses, organizations and governments whose continued support of the EGE Air Alliance help make these new flights possible. Visit http://www.FlyVail.com to view flight schedules or http://www.EGEAirAlliance.com to learn more about the Air Alliance efforts to increase flight service to the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.