Potential lies in targeting the 85 percent of air travelers who leave the Yampa Valley to catch a flight | CraigDailyPress.com

Potential lies in targeting the 85 percent of air travelers who leave the Yampa Valley to catch a flight

Tom Ross

A jet airplane lands at Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden. Sixel Consulting will present the preliminary findings of a YVRA air service study to the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

— The potential for securing additional non-ski-season air service to Yampa Valley Regional Airport will be on the agenda Tuesday afternoon as Routt County commissioners get the results of a preliminary report by Sixel Consulting Group.

Ironically, the report comes just four days after members of the Local Marketing District, which contracts for ski season direct jet flights, announced they would use some of the lodging tax dollars they oversee to land new summer service four times each week from Houston beginning June 26.

Still, the preliminary report by Sixel reveals there may be potential for more flights that meet the needs of visitors headed for Steamboat and the mix of leisure and business travelers who might change their current habit of driving to Denver to catch economical flights to distant cities.

Sixel studied nearly 6,000 airline tickets spanning July through December 2012 (taking in a portion of the ski season) and April through June 2013 to conclude that although YVRA's catchment area for local fliers generates 270 airline flights per day, 215 of those head to Denver and another 15 drive to Grand Junction to begin their airline travel.

Optimists might conclude that having even more new flights outside ski season provides an opportunity to capture some of the 86 percent of local air travelers who decided to leave the Yampa Valley to board a commercial airline flight.

"The results of the study indicate the Yampa Valley Regional Airport has a passenger market large enough to support additional service," Sixel's President Mark Sixel wrote in a letter to the commissioners. "However, this study alone will not be enough to acquire additional service. It is likely the Yampa Valley Regional Airport will have to offer some kind of risk mitigation program, including fee waivers, marketing and even ground handling, to attract additional service at Yampa Valley Regional Airport."

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It's no secret that many of the airline travelers leaking from an area within 90 minutes driving time of YVRA are intent on purchasing more economical tickets. Denver International Airport has a surplus of seats on low-cost airlines such as Southwest and ranks sixth in the world in terms of low-cost seat capacity, according to the Denver Business Journal. And the rapid growth of Southwest Airlines is continuing that trend.

YVRA manager Dave Ruppel said Monday that he is aware that local fliers view tickets from his airport as being expensive, but he suggested that those fares likely resemble the norm in larger cities.

The Sixel study shows the top destinations for travelers from the Yampa Valley are the Los Angeles basin and New York/Newark.

But Ruppel said the choice of Houston as a summer destination flight may be ideal because of its dual capability of providing local travelers with a convenient destination hub while attracting people seeking to come here to escape the heat and humidity of the southern tier of states.

"There's good opportunity for Houston," Ruppel said. "It connects well with other destinations, plus serves people who want to come here. That's what we want to look for. The LA basin might be another one of those places that provides us an opportunity in both directions. There's more work to be done, but this is a good start."

Routt County's contract with Sixel intentionally was structured to give commissioners a realistic look at the possibilities before opting to spend more to retain Sixel to build a case for air service to another destination. And everyone involved understands it will take significant economic incentives.

"We want to make sure we're not spending money on something that really doesn't have any opportunities," Rupel said. "I was recently at a meeting at DIA where I heard, again, the airlines in general are pulling out of small towns across the country. The airlines are no longer in a position where they're willing to assume the risk."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

If you go

What: Sixel Consulting Group presents preliminary findings of an air service study for Yampa Valley Regional Airport

When: 1 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Commissioners Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs

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