Airport partnership applies for funding

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— A public and private partnership trying to improve summer and winter air service at Yampa Valley Regional Airport has submitted an application for $1.1 million to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If the Northwest Colorado Air Transportation Association's application is approved, the Hayden airport could have flights arriving from Houston in the summer and from Newark and Atlanta during the winter.

To make this happen, the association submitted a 41-page application Friday in an attempt to take advantage of the federal program, which is designed to improve small airports across the nation.

If funded, the association would use $1.1 million during a three-year period to bolster air service during the summer and ski season.

This summer, the airport is being served by one airline. Air Wisconsin has scheduled three daily flights to Denver, which are estimated to provide about 28,000 seats.

To improve the summer service, the association is proposing to contract with Continental Airlines to provide a daily flight from Houston to Hayden, which would result in an additional 9,900 seats.

If the grant is funded, the program would start in 2003 and continue until 2005. Of the total grant request, $575,000 would go toward this summer program.

About $600,000 would be used to secure a daily flight from Newark and a Saturday flight from Atlanta during the ski season. Continental would provide the Newark flight and Delta Airlines would supply the Atlanta flight. These two flights would result in an additional 17,000 seats.

Officials believe the flights could fund themselves in the future.

"The key is to prime the pump and get it started," said Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for the Steamboat Ski Area.

Since February, Wirth and officials from Routt and Moffat counties, Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Chamber and Resort Association have been working on the application.

The group's mission is to improve the air service and make the airport a viable option for residents and businesses in the summer. Officials claim the cost to fly out of Hayden is too expensive and this forces residents to catch flights out of Denver.

"The key to this whole program is to provide competition," Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said.

Wirth agreed. "When you bring in competition, it moderates air fares," he said.

The association's application will compete with applications from numerous airports around the state and nation.

The federal agency has a total of $20 million to award.

The agency will approve no more than 40 proposals and a maximum of four from each state.

The YVRA proposal includes local funds to match the federal grant. The association is proposing to pitch in $195,000 for the summer flights and $1.3 million for the winter program.

Officials are hopeful a decision on the grants will be made sometime this summer, putting officials into position to launch the Newark and Atlanta flights in the winter.

"By simply adding seats, we would help the valley compete," Wirth said. "This would not only help tourism but also residents and local businesses."

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