American Airlines adding Chicago-Aspen winter service
How important is air service?
Total economic output at commercial resort airports:
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport: $841.1 million
Eagle County Regional Airport: $635.9 million
Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport: $98.5 million
Montrose Regional Airport: $221.8 million
Telluride Regional Airport: $78.5 million
Yampa Valley Regional Airport: $299.3 million
Source: 2013 Economic Impact Study for Colorado Airports
American Airlines is expanding its winter service in Aspen with new nonstop flights from Chicago and expanded service from Dallas-Fort Worth.
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Director John Kinney and Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich announced the new service Wednesday, noting that it was years in the making.
Daily nonstop flights from Chicago O’Hare, combined with a third daily nonstop from Dallas-Fort Worth for the holidays, will equal added convenience for travelers, especially for those coming from farther distances. The scheduling was strategic for American Airlines, Tomcich said, allowing timely connectivity from all New York City airports, which in turn makes traveling to Aspen from Europe and the East Coast that much easier.
United is the only other airline that offers nonstop winter service to Aspen from Chicago. On average, United offers four daily flights from Chicago during the same time frame, but because American was so strategic with the timing of its new Aspen service, Tomcich said they’ll be in a good position to maximize key connections from top markets, especially New York City. United has also moved all of its John F. Kennedy Airport service to Newark.
“This leaves American with a key competitive advantage in our number 1 domestic market, thus the reason I am confident this schedule will be successful,” Tomcich said.
American Airlines first entered the Aspen market in 2011 with service from Los Angeles and Dallas. The L.A. flight made connections to Aspen convenient from Australia, Aspen’s top destination winter market. From that very first year of service, American has been thinking about how to add Chicago, Tomcich said.
“This will make American a lot more competitive, overall, out of Aspen,” Tomcich said. “Folks will be able to fly in and go out in almost every direction.”
A re-timed morning inbound trip from Dallas was scheduled to allow connections from South America throughout the winter. Brazil is Aspen’s top South American market in the winter.
“Re-timing that Dallas flight really shores up connections from deep South America — Buenos Aires, Santiago, Sao Paulo,” Tomcich said.
Kinney, who took the Aspen airport director job about six months ago, said the new flights were added without subsidies — revenue guarantees that are paid by communities when a flight doesn’t make what the airline has budgeted — something he said is particularly noteworthy.
“It’s the No. 1 topic at conferences for the last 18 months — how do small communities hold on to air service today,” Kinney said, adding that most airports in Colorado are losing service, not gaining it. “You look at Grand Junction, Vail, they’re losing flights. Colorado Springs, losing flights. Fort Collins, Loveland — losing flights.”
Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer, who heads up the air alliance that subsidizes flight service in Eagle County, said the Eagle County Airport serving Vail didn’t add or lose any flights last winter or this summer. The airport did lose capacity last winter, although it managed to fill more inbound seats than the previous winter. Flight schedules for next winter haven’t been announced yet.
The fact that Aspen attracts the air service it does without a lot of revenue guarantees is an anomaly for mountain resort airports. Telluride-Montrose spends roughly $3.5 million on its air service, as does Steamboat Springs. Crested Butte-Gunnison spends about $900,000 and Eagle County spends about $400,000, according to data provided last year by air service groups in those communities.
Tomcich said start-up subsidies were required when Aspen lured Delta and American here, but the market now supports those flights and more.
“American’s decision to expand both last year with a second daily Dallas-Fort Worth trip, and this year — Chicago daily plus a third Dallas-Fort Worth trip around the holidays — are based on the success and current performance of their existing flights in ASE,” he said.
In Aspen, waiving airport fees and marketing assistance occurs as an extra incentive for airlines. But the airlines ultimately fly here because it makes economic sense.
“In the simplist of terms, airlines do get subsidies from Aspen, in fares — because passengers are willing to pay higher fares,” Tomcich said. “It has to do with the convenience of the airport. People land and they don’t have to pay up to $100 roundtrip for ground transfers or rent a car. That translates to a fair premium.”
More than half the lodging properties in Aspen and Snowmass provide a courtesy airport shuttle, he said.
Kinney said working with airlines to add service is a long process. He credited Tomcich and previous airport director Jim Elwood for the work they did to obtain the new American Airlines service.
“This just doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a real investment,” Kinney said. “It took us 9 years at (Denver International Airport) to secure the route to Japan. … It takes two years at least to really convince an airline.”
In the case of this new American Airlines service to Aspen, it took four.
“It’s something we’ve been working hard on for a very long time,” Tomcich said.
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