Flights to Yampa Valley Airport are expected to be on par with last year’s record season
After Yampa Valley Regional Airport saw a record number of passengers passing through the terminal last year, flight numbers are also expected to remain high this season.
Last year, there were more than 200,000 seats on planes flying to the airport during ski season, according to Janet Fischer, director of airline programs for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. A few weeks ago, it looked like seats would be down slightly, about 4%, she said.
“It’s a moving target and now I think we’re going to be close to stability (compared to last year),” Fischer said. “There have been some very, very recent additions.”
During the 2018-2019 ski season, the airport accommodated nearly 120,000 seats on planes. The following shortened COVID-19 season saw around 108,000 seats on planes as flights were canceled when ski resorts across the state closed in March.
Since the addition of Southwest Airlines at the start of the 2020-21 season, seat capacity on planes to Hayden has taken off, with 162,000 that year and 201,000 last season. Increased traffic has meant a busy summer with works at the airport, both to prepare for the upcoming winter season and to expand the airport in the future.
“We are about two-thirds through our terminal area plan, which is setting the stage for expansion,” airport manager Kevin Booth said.
Last year, the air program celebrated the presence of six different airlines from 16 different airports serving Hayden, more than any other mountain airport in Colorado. While some of the flights have changed since last year, both numbers are the same again this year.
While Steamboat Ski Resort is expected to open before Thanksgiving, flights typically resume in mid-December. Fights from Chicago, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth begin Dec. 15, with service from other destinations beginning Dec. 17.
JetBlue has made changes to flights from Boston and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this year, Fischer said. The number of seats is largely the same, but the airline offers more flights per week for a shorter period. JetBlue’s itineraries will run from February 3 to March 23 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Southwest Airlines stopped flying a plane to the Yampa Valley from Dallas Love Field in Texas and replaced it with a Saturday flight from Nashville. American Airlines cut a flight that also served Chicago, but increased the frequency of planes from Dallas, which arrive up to twice a day.
Another key change is that United Airlines, which serves Hayden year-round with Southwest, has increased some of its flights to use larger planes. Instead of an Airbus A319, United will use Boeing 737s, which increases the number of seats per plane from 126 to 166.
The surge in passenger numbers in recent years has also forced a number of upgrades to the airport. A key upgrade was doubling the de-icing pads, which will help get planes out on snowy days when flights need to depart one after another, Booth said.
“On peak days when we’re trying to get the planes around, if it’s snowing they have to de-ice before they leave, which is quite a lengthy process,” Booth said, adding that it can take 20 to 30 minutes. . . “The more abilities you have, the faster you can spin planes.”
Booth said he has also improved the equipment used to de-ice and clear the runway, which will speed up the time it takes to prepare the runway for takeoff and landing.
Inside the terminal, Booth said the airport has new boilers, a better system for displaying flight information and improved staff levels, giving passengers more food options. Last year, the airport often did not offer seated dining options as it was understaffed.
Earlier this year, Routt County raised its minimum wage to $20 an hour, a move that was a boon for employees across the county, but was done in part to improve hiring at the airport.
“I think it helped, both for recruitment and retention,” Booth said.
The Transportation Safety Administration also added all new scanners through security, Booth said. The new scanners are more accurate and mean passengers will no longer need to remove laptops from bags. New bag systems hope to increase the capacity to handle bulky, oversized bags such as skis and snowboards.
Booth said the ongoing development of the terminal area plan hopes to be completed by June. While he can’t say for sure what changes this will facilitate, it would likely add gates to the airport.
“This will set the stage for the design of the existing terminal expansion,” Booth said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email [email protected]