SkyWest ascends to prominence at YVRA

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Passengers from an American Airlines flight from DFW arrive on the tarmac at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Thursday. Almost every week of this ski season saw an increase in air travelers at YVRA during the same weeks last season.

— Regional jet carrier SkyWest has emerged as a major player at Yampa Valley Regional Airport this ski season.

The St. George, Utah-based airline, which serves Steamboat from both Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, carried 11,405 arriving passengers in January and February, second only to American Airlines with 15,684 passengers in the first two months of the year.

In February, just fewer than 28,000 passengers arrived at the airport west of Steamboat. That compares with 26,475 arrivals in February 2006. January saw even heavier traffic, with 27,594 passengers.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said there have been few, if any, weeks in the ski season when airline passenger numbers were not up from last winter.

SkyWest flies to YVRA under two different flags, serving the Denver route as United Express and the Salt Lake route for Delta Airlines.

The Salt Lake service was changed this ski season from a single daily flight on a Delta 737 to two daily flights on 66-passenger CRJ-700 jets. The availability of two daily flights would prove to make the Yampa Valley more accessible to travelers from West Coast cities, Wirth predicted last summer.

The Salt lake flights also bolster Delta's daily direct flights from Atlanta by allowing passengers from the Southeastern U.S. to return via Salt Lake, for example.

The arrival of SkyWest at YVRA this ski season also marked the return of small jets to the Denver route. Last ski season, United operated a daily flight on a Boeing 737, but the bulk of the flights were on 37-passenger turboprops operated by Mesa Air Group.

The airport's historical records of passengers are based on departures rather than arrivals.

SkyWest accounted for 19.8 percent of the passengers departing from YVRA in January and February, according to records kept by Routt County, which owns the airport. American was the leader with 28.2 percent of the departing passengers in those two months.

However, the number of passengers traveling through the airport on American and returning to Chicago and Dallas in January and February was down when compared to the record numbers of 2006. American had 16,380 departures compared to 17,780 during the same period in 2006. Still, the 2007 figures were greater than the number of passengers carried by American during the preceding five years.

January and February numbers for Continental (Houston and Newark) and Northwest (Minneapolis) were flat when compared to 2006.

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