Part of the new Business Improvement District assessment in Mammoth Lakes will pay for some subsidy of air service. It’s a subject with lots of push and pull on both sides. Mammoth Lakes Tourism Director John Urdi pointed us in the direction of a news story from Vail about the Eagle County Airport. Subsidies are not uncommon for ski resorts.
The Vail Daily News reported on how things work at Eagle County Regional Airport. The story highlights the importance of air service for second homeowners and for business in general. According to the Vail Daily story, “Most airports have to offer airlines what’s called a minimum revenue guarantee before the airlines will consider adding service to the market.” The story says this holds true particularly for mountain airports which usually have limitations in what type of plane can land and take off, high altitude air density, terrain obstacles and weight restrictions.
For Mammoth, the Ski Area has funded most of the air service subsides over time with help from the Town and County during fall and summer months. For those who think this is a bad investment, the Vail story says otherwise. The report describes a local Vail alliance dedicated to raising money to subsidize air service to the Eagle County Airport. It’s called a negotiated minimum revenue guarantee for the airline. If airlines make as much as the subsidy, the community keeps the subsidy.
While Mammoth’s air subsidies have raised some controversy and resentment, other resorts seem to have more cohesive community support – like Vail and also Jackson Hole, Wyoming. According to the Vail Daily News, the Jackson Hole Air Improvement Resources Board has been able to build a successful flight service program over the years. Now, fewer than 20% of the flights this winter are subsidized.
But small communities rarely attract air service without subsidies. Plus, the air service world is mostly merging. Twelve years ago, the nation flew ten major airlines. Now, there are four that dominate the market. This gives smaller markets less appeal.
Officials agree that no airline will fly to a resort community without economic incentives. So, it’s a community decision. Of course, the resort flights also mean locals nearby have an air service alternative to get in and out of the Eastern Sierra.