Can Vail Valley land international flights by 2015? |

Can Vail Valley land international flights by 2015?

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily
Aspen, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailySenior lineman Jose Velazco refuels a private jet Friday at the Vail Valley Jet Center in Gypsum. The jet center is planning to build a new commercial-sized hanger in the next year or two and is developing a business plan for international charter flights.

GYPSUM, Colo. – The folks at the Vail Valley Jet Center are feeling pretty good these days. There’s a new award to be framed and hung on the wall, and there are plans afoot to expand the business.

The Jet Center provides fuel, mechanical work and other services to the people and companies that fly private jets into the Eagle County Regional Airport. A couple of years ago, the Jet Center had a rough year, thanks to a combination of an international financial slump and closing down the airport’s main runway.

Now, though, Jet Center General Manager Paul Gordon is crowing about landing on Professional Pilot Magazine’s list of the top private aviation service centers in the country. The Jet Center was the top-rated facility in Colorado.

“Our people do a fantastic job of making sure the planes are ready to go,” Gordon said.

Beyond the award, through, the Jet Center’s business plan for the next few years includes one certain and one potential project that could make the business even more attractive.

The for-sure project is construction of a hangar big enough to house a Boeing 757 jetliner. Those are the planes the airlines usually park along the tarmac in front of the airport’s commercial passenger terminal just to the west of the Jet Center.

The hangar idea has been around for some time – Eagle County commissioners said there was one proposal from an individual who owns a 757 – but Gordon said work on the hangar could start as soon as next year. The idea, Gordon said, is to provide a safe, warm place to park a charter jet.

“It’s cost-effective when you look at the costs of de-icing,” Gordon said. “And if you have an option to hangar a plane, you’re less likely to have mechanical problems.”

And, unlike the jets that just spend the night in Eagle County, a charter plane parked at the airport for several days would cool down completely and would have to be run for some time to get the interior warmed back up.

So where would those charter flights come from? If the second part of the Jet Center’s plan comes to pass, perhaps Canada and Mexico.

The Jet Center for the past few years has had one customs agent on hand to clear passengers and flights arriving from other countries – Mexico, mostly. In fact, that person performed customs inspections for nearly 400 foreign flights last ski season.

Jet Center and Eagle County officials have, for several years, wanted an expanded customs office at the airport, but the initial cost estimates were prohibitive – $5 million or more for a full-service station capable of handling both private and commercial flights.

That cost has come way down recently.

Gordon said current estimates are that a customs station – which would do inspections for private jets and charter flights – could cost somewhere between $2.5 and $3 million, with the station located in the west end of the Jet Center building – which used to be the old commercial terminal.

Gordon said the Jet Center is doing research on the project now, but it could be ready to go before the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships.

If the Jet Center’s plans move forward, Runyon said the county would be an eager partner. And, he said, a big event with a set date might give the county more leverage when applying for federal funds.

At the moment, though, Gordon is happy to be making plans to expand, instead of planning to hang on.

“We just want to keep making it easy for our customers,” he said.

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