United Express and Continental Airlines combined last month to lift Yampa Valley Regional Airport to its busiest July in five years. The two airlines brought 4,824 passengers to the airport on planes that typically were at least three-quarters full.
"Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we sometimes had lighter traffic. Then all of a sudden, we'd be packed for all four flights," Mesa Airlines station manager Carol Ficker said. Mesa operated at YVRA as United Express this summer.
Ficker said that during July, Mesa's four daily flights between YVRA and Denver on 37-passenger Dash-8 turboprops were 83 percent full, on average, for arriving and departing planes.
Tom Heilner, airline accounting manager for Routt County, said the 50-passenger Continental jets were 75 percent full on the return flights to Houston last month.
The airport's busiest July in recent years came in 2000, when Air Wisconsin and Great Lake Aviation combined to bring 3,222 passengers here. Mesa Airlines-United Express eclipsed that number by itself last month, flying 3,604 passengers here. July 2003 saw 2,481 passengers arriving at the airport near Hayden.
The first full month of daily flights from Houston on Continental added 1,220 arrivals.
The business community put up about $200,000 in minimum revenue guarantees to attract the daily flights from Houston this summer in hopes they would boost summer tourism. They also anticipated the competition would produce lower airfares for travelers.
Julie Rabbit, owner of Steamboat Reservations and Travel, said roundtrip fares to and from YVRA have been lower this summer, but it is difficult to characterize the benefits for consumers because airfares are such a moving target.
For example, she pulled up computer quotes for a roundtrip from Dallas to YVRA, one on United via Denver and a second on Continental via Houston. The United fare was $278, and the Continental fare was $258. It would be more typical for the fares to be closer together, she said.
"If Continental has a fare from point A to point B, most of the major airlines will follow suit," Rabbit said. "United has had to modify fares into Hayden and match Continental. They have to look at each market to stay on top of it."
Travelers flying from YVRA to Denver and points beyond on the United system won't see similarly competitive fares if Continental doesn't serve that destination, she added.
Andy Wirth, marketing executive for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. said he's seen enough to reassure him that the Houston flight will return next summer. The revenue performance of the flight won't be known until late September, but there already is reason to consider expanding the service, Wirth said. That could be achieved by lengthening the summer season, adding additional capacity within the current season dates of June 9 to Sept. 7, or even adding another summer destination, he said.
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