The true story of Steamboat's holiday airline traffic probably won't be known until January figures are official.
Routt County government recently released figures showing the number of passengers boarding planes out of the Yampa Valley was off by a half a percent to 14,848 travelers in December 2006 when compared to December 2005.
That trend developed against the backdrop of a 16 percent increase in ski season airline flights.
However, holiday travelers who lingered in the Yampa Valley until January - in many cases until the second week in January - probably accounted for much of that decline.
Andy Wirth marketing vice president for the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. said many school districts across the country had unusually late holiday breaks this winter. He said his staff knew in advance that much of the late holiday business wouldn't show up in airline passenger figures until January figures were known.
"The Christmas holiday pushed into January," Wirth said.
American Airlines, which flies to YVRA from Dallas and Chicago was off just nine passengers in December. That came despite the fact that flights from Dallas were curtailed by heavy December rains in Texas.
Continental, which flies here from Houston and once a week from Newark, was off 155 passengers. Departing passengers bound for Minneapolis on Northwest Airlines were down by about 55 passengers.
He said unofficially, January "enplanements" at YVRA were up 16 percent from last year.
Based on figures supplied by Routt County, a 16 percent increase from January 2006 would yield an additional 4,278 passengers, boosting January 2007 to more than 31,000 departures - one of the busiest months ever at the airport.
There were other factors in the flat numbers from December. The December blizzard in Denver cost Yampa Valley Regional Airport passengers. More than 800 travelers couldn't fly into Steamboat Dec. 22-23.
Some of those passengers made it to Steamboat via ground transportation.
Mesa Airlines, flying as United Express from Denver, was off significantly, but the true impact of the blizzard wasn't revealed in enplanement figures. Mesa's turboprops operated just twice a day instead of the four flights that flew in December 2005.
The daily Boeing 737 operated by United's mainline was up in December, going from 909 to 1,430 passengers.
Also telling was a change in service on Delta Airlines, which flies to YVRA from Salt Lake City, Utah.
The full effect of the Delta flights, including the new daily Boeing 737 from Atlanta, were not felt in December because the winter schedule did not begin until Dec. 22, Wirth said. Detracting further from the Delta numbers was the daily flight from Salt Lake that operated under the fall schedule in early December was downgraded from a 70-passenger to a 50-passenger jet.
Finally, Wirth said, December 2005 numbers were inflated by the operation of three special American Airlines flights from Chicago on Boeing 757s to accommodate a large travel group.
In spite of the air travel woes in Denver in December, the twice-daily United Express jet flights operated by SkyWest Airlines were a success, Wirth said.
Both load factors and yield (net revenues) were very positive," he said.
The SkyWest flights generated 2,957 departures in December.
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