November 29, 2011
By: Lauren Glendenning
GYPSUM – As local businesses prepare for an influx of visitors to the Vail Valley, the Eagle County Regional Airport is preparing to serve those visitors, too.
The airport is increasing its seasonal staff in anticipation of an increased flight schedule, which begins Dec. 15.
Eagle County Airport terminal manager Chris Anderson said there are currently four arriving and departing flights per day – that’s four “turns,” meaning four arrivals and four departures. That number will go up to 17 to 18 turns per day in mid-December, with as many as 23 turns on Saturdays, he said.
The airport hires about 15 extra staff members for the winter season, while other agencies such as airlines or car rental companies could hire upwards of 50 extra people, Anderson said.
“In full swing, we’ll have a few hundred people working here in the winter,” he said. “It’s probably about a third of that during the slow time.”
The need for more seasonal employees is obvious in the airport’s numbers – 80 percent of the Eagle County airport’s traffic occurs from the end of November through the first weekend in April, said Kent Myers, director of the EGE Air Alliance, a group made up of local governments and businesses that works to grow airport service.
And the economic impact of that airport service is huge, he said.
Besides the obvious impacts of airport users who stay in local hotels, eat at restaurants and ski at Vail and Beaver Creek, there are major downvalley impacts, Myers said.
Out of about 250 employees at the airport, 53 percent live in Gypsum and 40 percent in Eagle.
“You’ve got people living there, making money and putting money back into the economy,” Myers said. “In addition, you have hotels that are in Eagle that get a dramatic amount of business from pilots over-nighting. There’s an impact. Those people are dining out and renting cars – they’re doing stuff down there.”
And the visitors to the valley that come through the airport are spending plenty of money, too. The average winter guest in the valley that travels here via the Eagle County airport spends $459 per day on lodging, dining, shopping and other activities – that’s more than double the amount the average summer or fall guest spends per day, according to Vail Resorts spending data.
One winter flight also has the power to spread massive revenues around the valley. The winter flight from Washington Dulles, for example, brings in more than 6,000 total visitor nights to Eagle County each winter. That’s more than $2.2 million spent in the county just from the passengers on that flight throughout the season.
Anderson said the airport has roughly the same schedule this winter as it did last winter. There is a bright spot in the winter schedule in the Miami flight on American Airlines, though. The flight is daily this winter rather than five days per week like it was last winter, equating to abou t 2,500 additional seats this winter.
Anderson said early indicators from rental car companies is that bookings are strong this winter. Area hotels have also indicated that bookings are ahead of last winter’s pace so far.
As the airport remains busy, Myers is thinking about growth. He said he’s encouraged about what the county, airport and community have committed to the Air Alliance. Myers expects next summer’s flight program to grow, as well as next winter’s program.
“We already have commitment from people that want to be a part of this,” Myers said.
Myers has also contacted the airlines about growing their service to Eagle County for next summer and winter. He thinks there’s plenty of interest, too.
“I think we’re going to have a really good program,” Myers said.
Source: SUMMIT DAILY