Summer jet service in place

Talks continue about fall airline service from Houston

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The Yampa Valley's second summer of direct jet service from Houston is loaded in the computer and set to take off. But negotiations for service throughout the autumn are continuing, and there's a possibility fall flights could originate from another city.

Continental Airlines will fly a daily 50-passenger Embraer RJ 145 jet from Houston to Yampa Valley Regional Airport again this summer. Nonstop service begins June 9 and continues through Sept. 6. Last year, a similar number of flights were 67 percent full on average and carried 3,013 arriving passengers.

Routt County was awarded a $500,000 grant in September to expand on that service during the next three years. A group of community leaders from Craig, Hayden, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. resolved to pursue additional flights to service the valley between Labor Day and the beginning of ski season.

Steamboat is served year-round by United Express flights from Denver operated by Mesa Airlines and Air Wisconsin. The initiation of the Continental flights last summer provided travelers with more options and appeared to have a moderating effect on fares.

Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for American Skiing Co.'s western resorts, said he hopes to have news within two weeks about the outcome of negotiations with Continental to continue daily service to YVRA from Houston during the fall. However, those negotiations are separate from the summer service, and a different set of circumstances translates into different economic issues.

Airlines make decisions about where to send their aircraft on a quarterly basis, Wirth said. YVRA's autumn service falls into the final quarter of the year when demand for business travel is high nationwide. That means Continental is assigning a higher "opportunity cost" to routing a plane to the Yampa Valley instead of a more lucrative business destination.

At the same time, autumn is not the valley's peak travel season. Wirth said a decision must be made about what level of revenue guarantees are feasible during the fall.

Negotiations with other airlines are taking place simultaneously in case the talks with Continental aren't fruitful, he added.

One possibility would be to use the federal grants to bolster daily service from Denver during autumn.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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