American Airlines will add 4,800 inbound seats to Yampa Valley Regional Airport next winter.
Most of the new airline seats will originate in Chicago, where American has agreed to switch to a larger Boeing 757 for its daily service to Steamboat Springs.
Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for Steamboat and The Canyons ski resorts, said a 2 percent increase in airline capacity this winter produced a 6 percent increase in passengers. The final number of passengers at the airport this winter has not been released.
Wirth said the change from a smaller 737 to the 188-passenger 757 from Chicago will add 33 inbound seats daily through a 107-day flight schedule. That works out to 3,531 additional seats from Chicago during ski season. The balance of the 4,800 will come Dec. 26 through Dec. 28 and Jan. 2 through Jan. 4, when American has tentatively agreed to increase operations to meet the demand for holiday travel.
"We've wanted to make this change in the past but couldn't make the business case (to persuade American)," Wirth said. "This year we did. We set records with our Chicago flight."
Wirth said Steamboat was able to negotiate a contract with American for Chicago and Dallas service, meaning the most it will pay the airline to operate the ski season flights is no more than the ceiling called for in last year's contract with the smaller 737.
Wirth attributed the ability to add the bigger plane to three factors. He said Steamboat Director of Airline Programs Janet Fischer worked with American officials on a daily basis to improve profitability on the Chicago route. The intent was to make certain fares were appropriately reduced when demand was low and sufficiently high when demand was high.
Second, Wirth said, the federal government took specific steps to unclog the skies over Chicago's O'Hare airport, resulting in improved performance by the airlines. The changes reversed the public perception that O'Hare was to be avoided at all costs, he said.
Finally, Wirth said his team was able to negotiate contract concessions for the winter based on American's success in trimming $2.8 billion in operating expenses. Steamboat insisted on benefiting from those efficiencies, Wirth said.
Final ski season load factors have not yet been reported by the airlines to officials at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Funding of Steamboat's airline program will enter a new era May 1, when the city of Steamboat Springs begins collecting lodging taxes through the newly created Local Marketing District to support airline revenue guarantees.
A more stable funding source for airline revenue guarantees going into the new season has allowed Wirth to finalize airline contracts for next year from the nine cities of origin that served YVRA, Wirth said.
Most of the flights will be loaded in travel computers during the next three weeks, he said.
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