Lea County Regional Airport to Expand Daily United Service to Denver
August 5, 2019 – Air travelers may soon have a choice to fly to either Denver or Houston from the Lea County Regional Airport, instead of just Houston.
Economic Development Corporation of Lea County board of directors chairman Finn Smith presented a proposal at Monday’s Hobbs City Commission meeting to add Denver to the United Airlines contract.
“We’re in the process of negotiating an agreement with United to add that flight,” Smith told the News-Sun. “It would be one flight a day, direct from Hobbs to Denver.”
He told the commission United Airlines is ready to start the new flight to Denver on Oct. 28. Flights to Houston began in June 2011.
Smith reminded the city commissioners that Hobbs and Lea County have set aside $2.3 million per year in subsidies to United Airlines, split evenly between the two governmental entities, depending on the number of riders using the air service.
Due to increased ridership, only $326,721 had been spent by the end of March, nine months into the fiscal year, and average load factors (number of seats sold versus number of seats available) has been 71-79 percent the last three months.
With those higher averages, Smith pointed out some flights may have been 60 percent while others more than 90 percent filled.
‘We feel like there’s a great opportunity to access more markets and cities that are very important to the oil and gas industry. They are in the Rocky Mountain region and out west. We think it’s a great complementary service to add, especially given the expansion that’s going on out at the airport.’
EDC of Lea County chairman
With the flights being fuller this past year, the EDC’s airline committee had asked United about adding an additional flight to Houston. United came back with a different suggestion.
“Why don’t you look at Denver,” Smith said was United’s suggestion.
“When we (the EDC airline committee) looked at this, it was a really strong complementary service,” Smith said.
Smith anticipates an increased cost of $500,000 to $600,000 would be associated with adding Denver to the contract, so the committed $2.3 million remains mostly intact, with no new exposure or risk to the governments.