Incentives to airlines adding new flights to Hayden hopes to bolster offseason flight options

Passengers step off of a Southwest Airline flight 3037 from Denver Wednesday morning at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden will now offer incentives to airlines that add new service, with the goal of attracting more flights to the Steamboat Springs area.

The new policy is based on incentives given to Southwest Airlines last year to start servicing the airport and will pay airlines about $4 per new seat up to $200,000. But the money is not a subsidy of the flights; instead, it is to be used solely for advertising the new flights and the area in general.

“I really see an opportunity here to open the door to summer service,” said Airport Director Kevin Booth. “Airlines are searching for markets where they can sell tickets, and they have come to the conclusion on their own, that they can sell tickets to Steamboat.”

The new policy comes as Southwest and United airlines have both bolstered their service to the Yampa Valley this summer. United is offering flights until Labor Day and expanding service to Houston and Chicago, and Southwest announced Monday they are extending service to the airport in Hayden through this summer. Booth said when he looks at ticket prices for April and May on these airlines, he can already see the results of more competition with lower prices.

“This is the right thing to do, an investment, for new incremental service above and beyond what we currently have going to the Yampa Valley Airport today,” said Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and COO Rob Perlman. “There are very few of these opportunities remaining. It took us six years to bring in Southwest Airlines this past winter.”

The policy could prove key to ensuring more service in the spring, summer and fall, when the airport has historically had very limited flights, with most going just to Denver.

Perlman said Southwest coming in has been a “win, win, win” for the community, the airport, Steamboat Resort and both local and visiting travelers. These incentives set things up incredibly well to have multiple carriers flying into the Yampa Valley year round, Perlman said.

“It is so exciting to see Southwest continuing on and also what United did, with Houston and Chicago, and the fact that we have never had mainline aircraft in the summer — those are all just big steps,” said Janet Fischer, director of airline programs for Steamboat Resort.

Airlines that receive incentives need to use the money to market new flights and the airport in general. The hope is that airlines will be able to establish these new flights with the extra marketing support.

“It is not a subsidy in any way, shape or form, but it is a monetary incentive to help them be successful through advertising and marketing only,” Booth said. “It is to get them off on the right foot and, hopefully, establish successful air service so that they continue to do it moving forward.”

Airlines currently servicing the airport are eligible if they expand service to new destinations that do not currently have any service to Hayden for at least one year prior to announcing the new service. A new airline that does not currently fly to Hayden is eligible for incentives even if they add service to a destination already served by another airline, but the incentives would taper off after just one year.

Funding for the incentive comes directly from the airport, just as the incentives offered to Southwest this winter did. The Federal Aviation Administration allows airports to spend revenue on incentives geared at attracting new service, and Booth said it is pretty common in the industry, though normally at larger airports.

“When it makes sense to invest in something that will highlight these new air services, we’re going to do that, as long as we can afford to,” Booth said.

The policy is also designed to be split between the winter peak season and the off-season, allowing airlines to get an incentive if they want to add flights during just one of those seasons or year-round. It also provides more opportunities for the incentive in the summer, because just a handful of markets are currently served then.

Booth said the airport has one gate in the winter time that is currently unassigned, but he expects it to be filled by Delta Airlines, which opted to not fly to the Yampa Valley this winter but is expected to return next year. Those flights would not be eligible for the incentives.

In the summer, the airport has four unassigned gates, and while more service would be welcomed any time of year, the airport is particularly underserved in the off-season.

Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said while Steamboat Resort had a lot to do with getting this additional service, year-round air service is also great for residents and smaller local businesses.

“When you look at rural economic development initiatives, that access to airports is one of the big factors in having good, strong economic resilience in a rural community,” Melton said

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