YVRA numbers down in March

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The number of airline passengers arriving at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in March was off by more than 1,800 from a year ago.

Seven airlines, including two charters, combined to bring 25,619 passengers here last month. That compares with 27,480 in March 2002.

Figures released by the airport show that three of four carriers with regularly scheduled flights here in March were down from the previous year. Only Continental Airlines, flying daily direct flights from Houston, carried more passengers.

March is typically one of the busiest periods of the ski season.

Most of the decline can be attributed to United Airlines' passenger numbers, which flew a daily 737 from Denver, and to Air Wisconsin, which operated small jets between Denver and YVRA as United Express.

"It's clear it was difficult both for United Express and mainline United," Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. marketing executive Andy Wirth said. "There's no question that a combination of travel fears during a very tenuous time leading up to the war, coupled with a very challenging economic environment, had an impact. Then add one other layer: United's well-publicized financial predicament."

For the ski season, beginning in November and continuing through March (final April figures aren't available), arriving passengers, or deplanements, were down 869 to 89,947. The drop in March offset gains earlier in the ski season.

Load factors are just one part of the airline program, and Wirth said he won't know the full picture until figures on yield -- essentially, the amount passengers paid to fly -- arrive in a few weeks. However, he was able to predict that the $2.3 million in revenue guarantees the business community puts up to attract ski season jets will be kept by the airlines.

"It's my sense right now that we'll use all the money that was pledged," Wirth said.

Wirth had just come from an afternoon meeting with city and county government officials to discuss future air service and improvements and said he was encouraged by the level of commitment he sensed at the meeting. Highlights of the ski season jet program included the strong performance by Continental out of Houston, he said. Northwest Airlines, which flies here out of Minneapolis, was up about 5 percent for the year, even though March was down, he added.

The ski season jet program got off to a good start and began to drop late in the ski season. November, which sees light traffic anyway, was down slightly, but December and January both were up.

December 2002, when 16,486 passengers arrived at the airport east of Hayden, was ahead of December 2001 and 2000. Traffic in January jumped to 21,095 passengers, more than 20,709 in 2001, but still not matching January 2000 when 22,960 people flew into the regional airport. The figures for January 2000 are skewed by the fact that it was the last ski season in which the airport received TWA flights from Atlanta with a stop in St. Louis.

The positive trend at the airport this winter began to come undone in February when the number of arriving passengers slipped to 24,754. That was more than arrived in February 2001, but down from February 2002 when 25,768 passengers arrived here.

The hits United took in March as it struggled to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy seemed to take a toll on Steamboat. Other airlines were down, but not by the same margin.

American, with daily direct flights from Chicago and Dallas, flew 8,130 passengers into YVRA, down from 8,752 the previous winter. That's a decline of 622 passengers between the two routes.

Air Wisconsin/United Express, by contrast, was off 1,300 passengers in March alone. The carrier flew 6,178 passengers here last month. The last full month of the ski season wiped out a gain of 1,000 passengers posted by United Express in December.

Northwest Airlines' daily flights from Minneapolis were off 11 percent in March, down to 3,119.

Continental was up by 11.6 percent to 5,780 passengers. The increase came despite the fact that Ski Corp. and the airline agreed to cancel the last week of daily direct flights from Newark, N.J., because of low interest.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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