Eagle County Regional Airport could go international | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County Regional Airport could go international

Derek Franz
Eagle Valley Enterprise
Aspen, CO Colorado

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GYPSUM, Colo. – The Eagle County Regional Airport might be classified as an international airport by 2013.

However, that goal largely depends on how much money Kent Myers and the Eagle Air Alliance can raise in the next month and a half.

Myers is the president of Airplanners, a consulting firm and a member of the Air Alliance, which is a public-private partnership of Eagle County municipalities and businesses. In recent months, Myers has approached the county and several town boards as he spearheads an effort to raise about $525,000, which would be used to attract additional air service to Eagle County.

There are five markets Myers is hoping to tap, starting next summer with service from Houston and Chicago. For the 2012-13 winter season, Myers is looking at Toronto, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“But I have to know how much financial backing I have before I go to the airlines,” said Myers, who is a former Vail Resorts executive. “I’ll know how much we have after my meetings with the private community in the next 45 days.”

The money will be used to guarantee hard dollars to an airline starting new service to the area. Myers said minimizing an airline’s financial risk is the key to getting it to try a new market, and it’s exactly how he helped expand service here starting in 2002, when commercial summer service started.

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“Ideally, the airline tries the market, finds it to be successful and then decides to continue the service on its own tab (without the guarantee of hard dollars),” Myers said.

That’s what happened with American Airlines, which picked up continual summer service after its trial period.

Besides the hard dollars the Air Alliance will guarantee, the airport is offering an incentive of waived landing fees for summer 2012 and winter 2012-13. Carriers that provide a new nonstop service in either season will qualify. “Nonstop service” means at least one flight per week for the entire season.

Earlier this year, Myers pitched his “three-year strategic plan” to Vail, Avon, Beaver Creek, Eagle and Gypsum. He asked the municipalities for pledges of $30,000 each in addition to what he hoped would be $125,000 from Eagle County. So far, he’s coming up a little short on those goals.

Vail and Gypsum have pledged the full $30,000, and Beaver Creek Resort Co. is likely to pledge that amount, as well – but not all of the municipalities jumped on board right away.

It was an easy decision for Gypsum, however.

“It’s in the budget for next year,” said Jeff Shroll, Gypsum’s town manager. “For us, it’s a no-brainer.”

Shroll cited the fact that the airport is in Gypsum and a lot of its employees live there, and he noted the car-rental business that benefits the town’s tax base.

Eagle opted to pledge at least $10,000 and as much as $15,000, depending on what the Eagle business community pledges.

“We will match whatever the businesses pledge up to $15,000,” said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell.

Avon anticipates a $6,000 pledge.

The county’s pledge of waived landing fees amounts to $102,000.

“We could use general-fund dollars, as well, but we’re not doing that now,” said Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney. “We have to be careful how we work with the Air Alliance because of regulations, so we’re kind of dovetailing with them. We are in full support of growing the airport and are excited about any way to bring more people into Eagle County.”

Though his public-entity funding goals have fallen a bit short to date, Myers is not losing confidence as he turns his attention to the private sector.

“I think I can do it,” he said of raising the money. “I always do.”