Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Steamboat Springs After five years and tens of millions of dollars in improvements, Yampa Valley Regional Airport is becoming the kind of facility that can help ensure the future success of our tourist economy.
The 2007-08 ski season flight program kicked off last week when a pair of 188-passsenger Boeing 757s touched down on American Airlines flights from Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago. Arriving passengers stepped off the planes and into an airport terminal greatly transformed from the second-rate facility it was just a few years ago.
YVRA is in the midst of a three-phase improvement project. The first phase included a 4,300-square-foot terminal expansion that created additional room for passenger check-in and baggage screening. The addition eliminated the need for a heated tent in which passengers lined up to have their baggage screened. The cost was $832,000, with federal funds paying about 90 percent of it.
The second phase included re-organization and paving of the airport's parking lots and passenger departure and arrival zones, an expansion of the airport apron to accommodate heavy Boeing 757s, and a 23,500-square-foot terminal addition that created significantly larger passenger areas, new ticket counters and a snack bar seating area on the ground level. Phase 2 cost about $16 million.
The third phase, scheduled to begin in 2009, includes expanding the baggage claim area, adding a second baggage carousel and potentially adding ski- and snowboard-specific baggage handling equipment.
There have been speed bumps along the way, including a problematic automatic parking gate and delays in other project areas. But the bigger picture reveals an airport that is worthy of our world-class resort community. It appears airport users are beginning to agree.
In a survey commissioned recently by Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., airport users gave scores of 8 or above (on a 1 to 10 scale) to the availability of desired flight dates, airport terminal cleanliness, airline employee service, security check procedure and directional signage. Flight costs and airport concession services - with scores of 6.8 and 6.2, respectively - were the attributes that satisfied customers the least.
The survey also underscored the economic impact YVRA has in Routt County. Only 15 of surveyed passengers spent less than $1,000 during their visit. On a scale from 1 to 10, 48 percent of passengers said they were extremely likely (a score of 10) to recommend Steamboat to a friend, family member or colleague. Twenty-six percent of passengers had an annual household income of $250,000 or more.
Additionally, 58 percent of passengers rated the availability of air service directly to YVRA as "extremely important" to their decision to come to Steamboat. To that end, Ski Corp., the Local Marketing District and the Fly Steamboat program have consistently worked to expand the flight schedule at YVRA. Ski Corp. officials have negotiated flights with five carriers for service from 10 major airports this winter, including all three major New York City-area airports. That includes daily flights from Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake City and Denver.
As we've said before, Steamboat Springs is a destination ski resort that relies on air travel to attract visitors. Routt County commissioners and county officials such as Manager Tom Sullivan have led the way on the critical improvements to Yampa Valley Regional Airport. And with the biggest ski season flight schedule in our history now under way, we're starting to see those efforts and dollars pay off.