Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Study supports Friedman replacement predictions

Colorado airports’ traffic grew after upgrades

Express Staff Writer

A study of two Colorado ski resort airports conducted by Friedman Memorial Airport's communications consulting firm supports contentions that a larger replacement airfield distant from Friedman would likely attract more airlines offering nonstop service to more cities and with substantially increased passenger volume.

Boise-based Gallatin Public Affairs prepared the 14-page report, "A Tale of Two Airports." An advance copy was obtained by the Idaho Mountain Express. The report is to be included in the Aug. 4 monthly meeting packet of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

The Colorado airports studied were Eagle County Regional Airport, which serves the Vail area, and Yampa Valley/Hayden Regional Airport, which serves Steamboat Springs. The facilities were not new, as a Friedman replacement would be, but were significantly upgraded.

In its conclusion, the study reports:

"The Colorado experience is informative for those who wonder what to expect from relocating Blaine County's diversion-prone, cancellation-impacted airport to an all-weather airport only minutes farther from the present weather-constrained Friedman (Memorial) Airport."

It added that "operational improvements and passenger service enhancements (at the Colorado fields) are directly tied to increased numbers of visitors to resort communities. The number of flights and the ability to attract nonstop service helps drive growth. Ground travel time is not a factor for travelers compared to the disruption and inconvenience of aircraft diversions and flight cancellations."

Quotes from managers of the airports plus statistical data on flight operations and passenger volume were used throughout the report, whose data sources are footnoted.

Gallatin Public Affairs President Marc Johnson said in a separate interview that researchers working on the study found "there is more than a little surprise (among Colorado resort sources) that not all folks in the Sun Valley area seem to have the same objective" in building a replacement airport.  

In high points of the study:

● Eagle airport increased passenger enplanements from 75,000 during 1994 to 175,000 in 2008. The airport credits extending the runway from 8,000 feet to 9,000 with additional airline service, including 180-seat Boeing 757 flights.

● Eagle and Yampa Valley/Hayden airports provide daily winter nonstop flights to major U.S. markets, including Chicago, New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Newark, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Salt Lake City, Dallas and Los Angeles. The airlines are United/United Express, Northwest, Delta, Continental and American.

● Steamboat ski resort Marketing Director Andy Wirth is quoted as saying that ground travel time to and from the airport is "just not an issue."

"You could double the distance from the airport to the resort and it would not be an issue," he said. "You take the tradeoff [in ground travel time] in order to get the operational improvements."

Those improvements allowed nonstop flights and an all-weather airport.

● About 20 percent of Eagle airport's passengers—about 35,000—are destined for Aspen, 78 miles away. The study notes that Vail is 36 miles from Eagle airport, while the distance between the proposed site 10-A for a Friedman replacement and Ketchum is 35 miles.

● After Eagle airport's upgrading, Vail Marketing Executive Gabe Shalley said, "We saw an explosion in visitors. That's because we have nonstop service (that) we certainly use ... in our marketing strategy."

The study notes that Friedman's consulting firm, Landrum & Brown, has already projected that passenger volume would leap from 70,000 to 100,000 in the first year of a new airport's operations and reach an estimated 140,000 by 2030.

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