Steamboat Springs The first three weeks of the Yampa Valley's new summer jet service from Houston saw 610 passengers arriving at the airport near Hayden. Arriving planes have been 58 percent full.
"The load factors for June weren't as high as we had hoped, but July loads are exceeding our original forecasts, and August is following the same pattern," said Janet Fischer, airline manager for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.
Fischer is lending expertise to the summer flight program, which is funded by the resort business community.
She declined to discuss details of July and August flight reservations because of a confidentiality agreement with Continental Airlines.
Records kept by Routt County show that 3,343 passengers arrived at YVRA in June, with 2,733 of the total arriving on one of the three daily United Express flights operated by Mesa Airlines.
This year's June arrivals at YVRA are substantially higher than in recent years.
In June 2003, United Express flights operated by Air Wisconsin brought 1,090 passengers to YVRA. Air Wisconsin flew 2,077 passengers here in June 2002, and Great Lakes Aviation carried 2,313 arriving passengers in June 2001.
This summer's daily Continental flight from Houston marks the first time YVRA has seen direct summer flights from outside Colorado.
The service is backed by a relatively small marketing budget as the resort and airline try to boost public awareness of the new service. The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association has a $40,000 marketing budget that includes trip giveaways to be used for promotional purposes by media outlets in Texas and Florida.
Fischer said the Houston flight is reflecting booking patterns that are more close-in than ski season flights.
"We're very pleased with the pace in the last couple weeks," Fischer said. "Booked load factors for July grew by 23 (percentage) points in the last 20 days leading up to July and continue to grow."
The economic success of the flights won't be fully understood until autumn when Fischer and airline officials are able to analyze yields as well as load factors.
The latter tell how many passengers arrived on each flight, but yields take into account how much passengers actually paid for tickets.
Similarly, Fischer and chamber executives won't know until fall how many arriving summer passengers began their trip beyond Houston in other cities served by Continental.
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