Winter’s direct flights to the Hayden airport start landing on Saturday, kicking off what looks to be yet another record-setting year for passengers.
Direct flights to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport start to pick up on Saturday and the winter flying schedule gets into full swing by next weekend, starting another season that could see a record number of passengers pass through the airport in Hayden.
With six major airlines flying non-stop from 16 different airports across the country, Airport Director Kevin Booth said the only thing that could get in the way of another record this year is the weather.
“Assuming we get some more snow and people don’t change their plans,” Booth said. “As far as the number of seats available and what we’re expecting, I would be surprised with decent snow if we don’t break records this year.”
Passenger counts have seen strong increases coming out of the pandemic, from more than 150,000 enplanements in 2021 to more than 215,000 projected by the end of this year. In 2024, the airport is projected to have just shy of 240,000 enplanements, which is the number of people who get on a plane at the airport.
This surge in passengers comes as the airport has significant expansion plans in mind, with more than $88 million worth of work projected by 2026 alone. That includes two phases of terminal expansion, one to the east and one to the west. The western expansion will include four new gates — three with jetways, meaning passengers won’t always need to walk outside to get on their plane.
But the expansion project doesn’t come cheap. The airport’s Terminal Area Plan, which was updated this year, projects this first phase of projects would total more than $88 million in the next three years. The plan calls for more upgrades too, with all the work planned between now and 2040 costing an estimated $174 million.
“It’s a boatload of work,” Booth said of the expansion. “And a boatload of money.”
$28 Million in Reserve
About 38% of all Routt County Reserves are at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport. (Routt County/Courtesy)
The Yampa Valley Regional Airport is projected to make money in 2024 to the tune of about $2.8 million, a level of profit that has led to a sizable increase in reserves in recent years. Those reserves now total $27.8 million, according to the 2024 Routt County Budget Brief.
The money held in reserve at the airport accounts for 38% of all the money Routt County has in reserve heading in to 2024.
“Ever since we opened the airport, it has struggled to have any kind of operating income,” said Routt County Budget Director Dan Strnad, when he was presenting the budget to commissioners earlier this month. “The last two years … it’s a significantly different situation.”
Since the airport is set up as an enterprise, those reserves need to stay with and be spent at the airport. Booth said building up these reserves now will be crucial to pay for the terminal expansion and will improve the prospects of winning grant funding for the work.
While some airport projects like runway improvements often require just a small match from the airport, generally around 5%, Booth said they would be lucky to fund 50-60% of the expansion project from outside funding sources like the Federal Aviation Administration or the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“It’s important with a project like this because — I don’t want to speak for the FAA — but typically they fund less of projects, as far as percentages go, like this,” Booth said. “Having the reserves that we do means that we can put essentially a lot of skin in the game, which helps us garner FAA support and for them to invest in the project too.”
No more walking outside
The orange sections of this graphic show the footpring of where the Yampa Valley Regional Airport terminal will be expanded. (Yampa Valley Regional Airport/Courtesy)
Passengers have long needed to walk on the tarmac to get to their planes at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, but Booth said that will change with the terminal expansion including three new jetways.
The improvements would more than double the square footage of the terminal, and allow the airport to accommodate as many as 450,000 passengers a year, according to presentations on the airport plan shared with the community earlier this year. If all the improvements contemplated in the Terminal Area Plan are built, the airport could accommodate more than 600,000 passengers a year by 2040.
The westward expansion will have space for four new gates as part of a two-story building, with three of these gates including jetways directly onto aircraft. The gate currently used for JetBlue will no longer be a gate and the current United Airlines gates will be combined into one, leaving the airport with nine total gates once expansion is complete.
“These are airplanes that are in the 122 to 160 seat range, so we want all our gates to be interchangeable,” Booth said, adding that some of the current gates only have space for 60 people. “We’re going to take the seven (gates) that we have today, add four and then subtract two.”
Booth said the expansion will also create space to add another lane of security for the TSA, more room for baggage claim and a more centralized ground transportation area. Expansion also helps with capacity in general, as on some of the busiest days of the year Booth says the airport was often approaching the fire code for people in certain areas.
“We need the square footage,” Booth said. “There are times where we have to restrict movement through the TSA checkpoint so as not to exceed fire code regulations in the secured area. We’re trying to get away from that.”
Ready for the Rush
Passengers load on to a Southwest Airlines flight to Denver in November. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)
Direct flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Nashville, San Diego and Seattle start arriving in Hayden on Saturday. By the Christmas weekend direct flights from Los Angeles, New York, San Fransico and Washington D.C. will also start their winter schedule.
JetBlue has direct flights from Boston and Fort Lauderdale that run for two months starting in February.
Booth said he still has some staff openings for part-time firefighters, security guards, passenger services, counter attendants and a few servers in the restaurant, but that his team is ready for things to get busy. The airport employs 30-35 employees year-round and needs closer to 80 in the winter season.
“We’ve got enough staff to do what we need to do, we’re just all going to be working pretty hard,” Booth said. “A lot of that (staff increase in winter) is on the maintenance side, snow removal.”
Booth said several key upgrades are ready for the rush of passengers as well. This includes an expanded paid parking lot with a new payment system that hopes to be smoother for both customers and airport staff. There are also more rental car offerings with five brands and three different companies. The airport added a carwash on site for rental car companies to turn around cars faster and increased the size of rental car parking lots.
“We have a lot more rental cars,” Booth said. “It’s not the sexiest of projects, but I think it’s going to make a big difference.”