Newark flights cut a 2nd time

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— The Steamboat Ski Area has cut back the frequency of direct flights from Newark into Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden for the second time in 20 days.

The initiation of direct flights from the New York market was hailed by ski area officials last summer as a major development for the resort. But the disappointing pace of flight bookings since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and uncertainty about the level of support the ski area will receive from the business community for flight guarantees this winter, resulted in the cuts.

Continental Airlines will now fly daily between Newark and YVRA only from Dec. 23 through Jan. 4. With the exception of 19 other midweek flights, Newark service will be reduced to Saturdays.

"We did eliminate many of the remaining (Newark) flights," Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said Monday. "It's a great disappointment that we've had to reduce the seats. These are temporary setbacks, but we're saddened and disappointed. We saw no other choice."

The Newark flights were originally planned to bring more than 14,200 inbound seats into YVRA this winter. That number was cut by 5,000 on Nov. 8, when the ski area said it had agreed with Continental to suspend daily flights for most of January and early February.

The remaining 19 midweek operations from Newark this season are clumped around Presidents Day weekend in February and key spring break periods in March. They were selected on the basis of existing reservations and the likelihood of strong interest in those dates, Wirth said.

Wirth said he hadn't done the math yet on the number of seats lost in the latest round of cuts. He also said that although the defeat of Referendum 2A in the November election was a factor in the decision to cut more Newark flights, it would be inaccurate to attribute the cause of the cuts solely to the failure at the polls. Referendum 2A would have created a graduated sales tax on such things as lodging, restaurant meals and lift tickets to generate a stable source of funding for the ski season flight guarantees. The voters rejected the tax.

Wirth said some of the businesses that contributed to the flight guarantees last winter took a wait-and-see approach this winter, pending the outcome of the election. With the failure of the tax measure, and most businesses anticipating lower ski season revenues, their participation is in doubt.

Wirth said the transportation task force that puts together the flight program could not depend on adequate funding to support all of this winter's scheduled jet flights.

On a more optimistic note, Wirth said he had succeeded in convincing Northwest Airlines to move back its daily departures from Minneapolis bound for YVRA from 9:10 a.m. until 11:20 a.m. beginning in mid-February and continuing through March. That change means destination skiers in eastern seaboard cities such as Washington, D.C., won't have to catch a 6:15 a.m. flight to connect through Minneapolis. The new schedule won't be in effect until February because of the number of vacationing skiers who have already booked flights and would be inconvenienced by a change in flight times, Wirth said.

Wirth said he did not anticipate making any further cuts to this ski season's airline program and added Continental has made a firm commitment to return with daily flights next ski season. Despite the cuts, Wirth said the 136,000-plus inbound seats this winter are still more than the 120,000 that arrived at YVRA last ski season. The ski season jet program has included Saturday flights from Newark for more than five years.

Ski area officials noted, when announcing daily service last summer, that the greater New York area represents one of the two largest markets for destination skiers in the country. The other is Chicago. Steamboat restored daily flights from Chicago this winter.

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