Business owners lukewarm on summer flights

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— Half of the limited number of business owners responding to a recent Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association survey said they would be willing to put up cash to secure summer airline service.

The survey is part of an effort on the part of business and government leaders to develop backup plans should United Airlines go out of business. United is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy and United Express represents the only commercial air service into the Yampa Valley during spring, summer and fall.

Chamber Executive-Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall told an ad hoc committee investigating the airline situation that 50 percent of business owners responding to a recent survey indicated they would not be willing to provide financial support a summer air program.

The business community already supplies more than $850,000 to help attract direct jet flights to the resort in winter, but has never subsidized summer service.

Chamber Business Resource director sent the survey to 500 members of the chamber on March 5. She received 54 responses, a return of 11 percent.

Of the surveys returned, 35 percent or 19, said "yes" they would lend financial support. A total of 25 said "no" and five said "maybe."

Evans-Hall said the Chamber has received funding commitments of $25,000 each from the Sheraton Steamboat and Steamboat Grand hotels. The broader lodging community has promised about $20,000.

"We're looking at a maximum of $140,000," Evans-Hall said, but a portion of that amount would have to be reserved for marketing.

Continental Airlines has told the community it would need revenue guarantees of $250,000 to operate a daily 50-passenger regional jet to Yampa Valley Regional airport on a daily basis this summer. Talks with Sky West/Delta have been initiated for service from Salt Lake City, Utah. The cost is not known.

Evans-Hall reported the Sheraton has $364,000 of group and convention business booked for this summer, of which $220,000 is from outside Colorado. Another $231,000 in tentative bookings are anticipated, of which $74,000 is from outside Colorado and likely to need air transportation.

Evans-Hall said six conventions would be impacted by a tentative loss of air service. They are spread over June, July, August and September.

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