Scott Miller VAIL DAILY
Eagle County airport sees its busiest summer yet
August 15, 2021
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  • Commercial, private, military flights all up from ’20

    There’s never been a summer like this one at the Eagle County Regional Airport in Gypsum. That’s building optimism for the coming winter.

    Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid said in past years, only two or three commercial flights per day came in the summer. There’s a long-running United Airlines flight from Denver, and American Airlines for a few years has offered daily service from Dallas.

    Those flights continued this summer, augmented by flights from Chicago on American, and flights from Atlanta on Delta Airlines. The airport now sees eight commercial flights per day most days of the week, Reid said.

    Those flights are all coming in without minimum revenue guarantees, arrangements between airlines and destinations in which the destination will cover revenue shortfalls on a specific route. Those guarantees are common in the industry, especially at smaller airports.

    Those flights have created more clients for businesses based at the airport.

    Kati Dirker’s family has run the Avis and Budget rental car operation at the airport since the 1990s.

    ‘We did really well’

    “We’ve never, ever, ever had a summer like this,” Dirker said. “We did really well this summer,” she added, noting that complications with international travel may have boosted domestic service this summer.

    And, unlike other rental car locations, Reid said cars have generally been available at the airport, which Dirker confirmed.

    In addition to the boost in commercial traffic, Reid said flight operations in general have increased a lot over 2020.

    Commercial service so far this year is still running behind levels seen through 2019.

    That gap to 2019 is only about 8% at the moment. That’s much better than the first quarter of 2021, which was down 15% compared with 2019.

    But the increase in service really boosted passenger numbers in June. In fact, Reid said, passenger numbers in June of this year exceed those recorded in April, May and June of 2019.

    But overall operations are up by 48% compared with 2020. That includes flights from private and military aircraft using the airport.

    The Vail Valley Jet Center serves those who fly in on private jets. The facility, just east of the commercial terminal, has many jets parked on the tarmac and in the hangars most weekends.

    For both commercial and private aviation, Reid said he expects this summer’s trends to continue. People are flying more as the country recovers from the economic near-shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    A busier winter?

    For the coming ski season, United, American and Delta will provide direct seasonal service from 13 destinations.

    While it’s hard to predict activity in the airline industry, Reid said he and his team, along with the EGE Air Alliance, a local group that works to boost business into the airport, meet regularly with airport representatives.

    And, while no deals have been announced for new airlines or destinations, Reid said he’s confident the airport may be able to attract new business in the coming months.

    “We were at an air service conference in June, and met with seven or eight airlines,” Reid said.

    Reid said he hopes the activity this summer — and expected activity in the winter — may open the door to true year-round service from other airports.

    Reid noted that Frontier Airlines has asked for negotiations with local representatives.

    Dirker echoed Reid’s optimism about the coming ski season. While the Avis and Budget franchise is like most other local businesses when it comes to hiring and keeping staff, “We’re planning on the same (winter) as last year. If it’s like (this) summer, it’ll be busier.”