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Our View: Maintaining momentum

Airline transportation into Yampa Valley Regional Airport has undergone significant change for the better in the past year.

Since the formation of the Yampa Valley Airport Commission a little more than a year ago, initial improvements to the airline terminal have been completed and summer jet service from Houston has been added. The airport recorded its best summer ever.

The lodging community has offered a tax proposal that, when combined with the financial support of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., will provide a stable source of funding for the airline flight guarantees to ensure flights from markets across the country continue into Steamboat. Now — thanks to an effective partnership between Ski Corp. and Routt County — YVRA could have daily flights to Houston starting in the fall of 2005.

We think these changes have had a profound and positive effect on air service and tourism in the Yampa Valley. But they also underscore the importance of funding and completing improvements to the Hayden facility.

The fall flights should be celebrated. Routt County received a $500,000 grant for the flights from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Small Community Air Service Development Program. Ski Corp. and the county had worked together to pursue the grant for two years before finally receiving word that the funds had been awarded this year.

The $500,000 will be spent during a three-year span and comes with a community match of $185,000. Area entities have offered to help support the flights financially. Ski Corp. which has a great track record of negotiating YVRA’s winter and summer jet service, and will negotiate the specifics of the fall flights with Continental, which supported the grant application.

The fall flights will benefit everyone, giving local residents access to more flight options out of Hayden. And as we saw this summer, competition at YVRA between United and Continental helps keep fares down on both airlines.

Houston always has been a strong market for Steamboat. And the Continental hub is expected to give Northwest Colorado greater access to markets in the Southeast that have multiple flights into Houston daily. These flights should make it easier for hunters from the South to make their way to Northwest Colorado in search of elk.

But the hard work Ski Corp. and the county have put into securing year-round jet service will be jeopardized in the long run if planned improvements at YVRA don’t continue.

The county needs to pursue FAA funds for the second phase of airport improvements. That phase includes a 23,000-square-foot terminal addition for new ticket and passenger holding areas, parking and road improvements and an enlarged runway apron that will accommodate three 757s safely. The current apron cannot accommodate two 757s without violating FAA space regulations.

The county has indicated recently that the improvements could be delayed if the county isn’t able to secure a wetlands permit to start construction of the new justice center. The county’s stance is that the justice center is a higher priority, and it can’t afford to borrow funds for the airport improvements until the justice center is resolved.

We can appreciate the county’s cautious fiscal approach, but we hope commissioners give strong consideration to staying with the current timeline on improvements at YVRA.

The facility improvements at YVRA are critical to the facility’s ability to build upon the success of the past year by adding more flights from more markets. There is significant momentum at YVRA — the county’s challenge is to sustain it.


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