United Airlines will add a winter nonstop flight on Saturdays between Durango and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
The service will run from Jan. 11, 2020, to March 28, 2020, said Durango-La Plata County Airport’s Director of Aviation Tony Vicari.
“United wants to test the market beyond the peak summer season, and we’re excited about it. Purgatory is excited to get service from Houston. It’s one of their biggest feeder markets, and it’s our fourth biggest origin market,” he said.
Vicari said business ties, a number of second homeowners and tourists from Houston are big reasons why that market provides a lot of traffic to DRO.
United’s summer direct flights on Saturdays to Houston are set to end in October, and will resume with the direct winter flights on Jan. 11, Vicari said.
The flight will be on a 70-seat Embraer E-170 aircraft.
Houston is the nation’s 15th busiest airport and a large United Airlines hub.
Keith Guyett, chief marketing officer for Mountain Capital Partners, the owner of Purgatory Resort, said in a news release issued by the airport: “Texas, and Houston in particular, represent a very important demographic for us.
“We see heavy visitation from the Houston area throughout the winter months, and nonstop air service to DRO will be a game-changer for Houston-area ski and snowboard enthusiasts looking for direct access to our resort. The economic impact from this visitation not only impacts Purgatory, but also the entire Durango region.”
Vicari said the addition of the winter flights shows United is interested in assessing the Durango market for possible expansion of routes.
Airlines, he said, will assess the profitability of a route before adding it to the schedule. Principally, he said, airlines will look at the percentage of seats filled on their flights and the total ticket prices they are able to charge before adding a new route.
“I think it really speaks to the bigger picture that airlines continue to have interest in Durango and continue to test the market to see if we can sustain additional routes,” he said.
He added, “It’s a big commitment for them to dedicate an airplane and a crew to a route.”
Busy yearYear-to-date, Vicari said passenger numbers for United are flat compared with 2018 and American is up 6½% for the year.
Vicari said the airport will begin discussions with United and American in the next few weeks about continuing direct Saturday summer flights from Durango to Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago in 2020.
Vicari said the airport is on track for its busiest year in 2019.
Some 378,000 passengers used the Durango-La Plata County Airport in 2018.
In addition to seasonal nonstop Houston service, United continues to operate year-round daily flights between Durango and Denver International Airport, as well as seasonal summer service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
American also serves Durango with daily routes to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
American also provided summer flights on Saturdays from Durango to Chicago and Los Angeles.
DRO operates as an enterprise fund of the city of Durango and generates self-sustaining revenue from airport tenants and users in the form of airline rent and landing fees, terminal concessions, ground leases and parking fees. The airport does not receive any local tax funding.
The airport is currently on a multiyear plan to increase its airline fees, which should rise 9.8% per passenger in 2020.
Vicari said DRO historically has underassessed fees charged compared with similar airports across the country, and it plans to bring its fees up to national average rates in the next few years.
Terminal remodelConstruction was underway this summer on a $1.6 million renovation of the 5,000-square-foot airline ticketing and check-in area and an improved baggage conveyor system, and the airport plans to hold a grand opening of the renovated area in late October, Vicari said.
The renovation should provide more efficient space for airline operations and passenger check-in and also provide more ticket counter space for the airport to lease to airlines should another airline choose to service Durango.
FAA grantThe airport also received its second Federal Aviation Administration grant this year, a $1.82 million grant to resurface the ramp, a 10,000-square-yard parking area for airplanes at the airport.
Design work will begin on the project next month, and bids for the project are expected to be taken in early 2020 with construction set for spring or summer 2020, Vicari said.
Earlier this year, the airport received a $6.8 million FAA grant to pay for a complete reconstruction of its 9,200-foot taxiway.
Work on the taxiway reconstruction is just finishing up, Vicari said.