Eagle County airport eyes growth
VAIL, Colorado – The Eagle County Regional Airport is looking to grow service and expand, but what it really comes down to at the end of the day is money.
Eagle County Airport Terminal Manager Chris Anderson told the Vail Economic Advisory Council on Tuesday that the airport is staying busy and bringing plenty of people into the valley, but expanding service is proving to be tough in the current economic environment.
“A flight program really takes solid community backing,” Anderson said. “Marketing, hard dollar and in-kind type backing.”
The winter 2009-10 season had 13 nonstop flights from 12 major U.S. cities, and this winter has 11 nonstop flights from 10 major U.S. cities. Delta’s Cincinnati and Detroit nonstops, both on Saturdays only, were discontinued this season.
American Airlines, however, increased its nonstop Miami flight to seven days a week this season, but will drop it to five days a week this month.
Airlines are reducing fleet numbers and running their more bread and butter routes, Anderson said.
“For smaller airports, it’s going to be a little more challenging down the road, if they continue this trend, for us to retain service,” he said.
There were about 0.5 percent more enplanements, or passengers coming in and out of the airport, in December 2010 than December 2009.
“That’s not bad. We’ll take it,” Anderson said. “Especially when we’ve lost destinations.”
Anderson said the growth potential at the Eagle County airport, aside from a potential international terminal, is really in the summer months.
Last year, the airport subsidized the Dallas and Miami flights at a cost of about $210,000 – proof that a flight program really is about the money.
Anderson said that without total community support and a consistent revenue stream, it would be difficult to provide consistent summer service to more markets.
Vail Resorts, which supports the airport significantly each year, is smart with its money, Anderson said. The focus of dollars spent on flight programs has remained on the stronger, reliable markets.
Movement at the airport in 2011
Airport officials who were focused on the runway expansion project, which shut down the runway for commercial service in the summer of 2009 and took about two years to complete, are now setting their sights on new projects.
Anderson said the airport is kicking off its master plan process this year. The airport hasn’t completed a master plan in more than 10 years, and hasn’t had one approved by the county and accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration since the 1980s, Anderson said.
“This is a big deal for the airport,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get out into the community and talk to everybody. How can we better serve the community, and what does the community want the airport to be?
The airport also got Transportation Security Administration funds for a baggage screening system, a $5.5 million project. The system, which is used to inspect checked bags, is able to handle significantly more bags than the current system.
“This project is a nice starting point for some other projects at the airport,” Anderson said.
It would set the stage for projects like a security checkpoint expansion, which would widen the checkpoint to four or five lanes and be able to push well over 500 people per hour through the lines.
“We’re trying to better the guest experience where we can,” Anderson said.
A new marketing plan in 2011 will also focus on the airport’s accessibility and highlight the convenience of the Eagle County airport over Denver International Airport.
The High Altitude Aviation Training Site is also beginning a $35 million project in 2011 that will build a 100,000-square-foot facility at the airport, with about 80 percent of that work being done by local contractors.
The Vail Valley Jet Center and the Eagle County Airport hired Lucy Kay, a former Vail Resorts executive, to be the project manager for what’s being called the Eagle International Arrivals Project. Kay told the Vail Economic Advisory Council Tuesday that she’s spending the upcoming month trying to get a better handle on the potential for international customers.
She’s going off information in a study by the Boyd Group, consultants out of Denver, and expanding on that study.
“My role now is to come into the community and unearth all the data I can find on international visits,” Kay said. “… My goal is to really provide the best set of data in terms of current and potential demand.”
The international terminal, an idea that first surfaced around 2007, is estimated to cost about $2.5 million to $3 million. It would be a terminal for charter flights, with no commercial service expected at this stage.
Kay said she thinks there’s a lot of energy for this project and she wants to make sure she can get people to weight the pros and cons.
While it would be “awesome” to be the only ski resort in the United States with direct international flights into its small regional airport, it’s really important to weigh the risks, she said.
She plans to meet with various stakeholders in the coming weeks and put together some findings by mid-March.
“As I’m meeting with you, I just want to make sure we kick over every stone and differentiate the things that may impact the viability of this project,” Kay said.
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