Record traffic has Yampa Valley Regional Airport eyeing another expansion

With so many passengers, weekends are busier than ever at airport terminal

Heat rises off the runway as a United Airlines flight lands at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. The airport is seeing record traffic this winter, which has officials looking at what demand might be in the not too distant future.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Last Saturday, Feb. 19, was the busiest day ever at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport with about 4,850 people getting on or off a plane.

That record isn’t expected to last long.

“We have over 2,500 departing (on Saturday, Feb. 26), so typically it’s about the same number that come in, so that would put us over 5,000,” said Kevin Booth, airport director. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve never come close to that.”

Busy used to mean 3,000 people passing through the airport in a day. Now, having more than 4,000 — and occasionally close to 5,000 — is increasingly common during the winter flying season, which runs December to April.

On these days, Booth recommends arriving at the eight-gate airport about two to three hours before the scheduled takeoff.

In 2021, 153,440 passengers used the Yampa Valley Regional Airport — the most ever and a 42% increase from 2019, the year Booth compares to because 2020 was such an unusual time for air travel.

The record number of passengers comes on the heels of a $5.2 million terminal renovation that was finished in December 2020 — a project with the main purpose of accommodating the addition of Southwest Airlines at the airport.

Just over a year later, Booth is already talking about expanding it again.

“It’s time to really take a hard look at what’s the smartest way to expand the terminal,” he said.

A United Airlines jet takes off from Yampa Valley Regional Airport Friday afternoon.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The recent expansion added just one gate and one ticketing area for one airline, Booth said. The last major expansion at the airport was in 2012. Booth said they have applied for some planning grants, the bulk of which would go toward creating a terminal area plan.

This plan would try to project future demand for the airport and what needs it may have in a decade. Booth said adding gates to the terminal — likely to the east — isn’t the only consideration.

Adding more restaurant and retail space, parking, baggage capacity and security checkpoints, among other things, are all being looked at.

“If we’re projecting 180,000 enplanements in 2022, what are we going to look at in 2032?” Booth asked. “Whatever we build between now and then should have an eye toward 10, 15, 20 years (from now).”

The plan would be developed over the next two years, with construction likely needing to wait until 2024, Booth said.

The pandemic has been a major factor in the record numbers of passengers, as mountain destinations with access to nature have been popular destinations for a COVID-fatigued public.

Booth said he still anticipates there to be growth, but probably not at the pace of the last two years. The terminal plan would try to forecast those numbers and plan for that growth accordingly.

The 2020 terminal project added a gate at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport that is used by Southwest Airlines. Just over a year later, Airport Director Kevin Booth is talking about another expansion.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Another area of growth has been with off-season flights in the spring, summer and fall.

Janet Fischer, director of the airline program for Steamboat Resort, said during a meeting of the Local Marketing District on Friday, Feb. 25, that United Airlines would fly three daily flights to Denver International Airport in the off-season. Southwest also will operate five days a week to start but then bulk up to two daily flights to Denver for the core of the summer, Fischer said.

“That’s going to allow for better availability and better connectivity both directions,” Fischer said.

With the increase in flights over the summer months, the airport hopes to lower fares, which Booth said makes the airport more accessible for locals.

One indicator of more locals using the airport might be found in the paid parking receipts, which Booth said are up 81% since 2019.

However, surveys show the breakdown of passengers using the airport has remained relatively similar to what they have traditionally been, Fischer said.

About 90% are visitors, 6% are locals and 4% are part-time residents or second homeowners.

“There is a lot more local usage of the airport from Routt and Moffat County locals,” Fischer said. “The percentages are staying the same because we have a lot more guests also.”

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