Changes coming at Eagle airport
Eagle County correspondent
GYPSUM – People who flew into the Eagle County Airport this ski season will see some changes when they return next year.
A handful of improvements and renovations is in the pipeline for the next couple of years. Some, like the big runway expansion project that started this month, are easy to see.
Passengers won’t notice other projects, like a new radar system and better technology to allow planes to land in bad weather, since it’s hard to notice when a flight hasn’t been delayed or detoured to another airport.
The radar and instrument landing systems will speed up operations during bad weather, said Chris Anderson, an airport administrator. At the moment, low clouds can slow the airport to just six takeoffs and landings per hour. The new instrument landing system will roughly double that, Anderson said.
And having a radar system at the airport – a project for which it has taken years to get federal – will also increase the number of planes that can land at and leave the airport in an hour.
If more flights come – and county officials and consultants are talking to other airlines now, although they won’t say which ones – those new flights, and others, will probably come in on a slightly different path.
Eagle town officials and residents have been lobbying the county for some time for a slight change in the path incoming flights take to the runway. Many of those flights now come in over the Upper Kaibab area near Eagle, and, roughly, over the county’s administration building.
The new path will take planes more along the Eagle River, said airport operations manager Ovid Siefers.
“I don’t think the general public will see a big difference,” Siefers said.
A longer runway and the new radar and instrument landing gear are good news for Brad Ghent. Ghent runs the Dollar car rental agency at the airport, as well as the business that washes the cars from other rental companies before the next customers get them.
“Those are going to be fantastic additions to the airport,” Ghent said. “It’s going to bring in more people.”
More people will create a bigger demand for services, especially food and drinks. The way the terminal is laid out now, the only way to get to the restaurant and bar is by passing through security first. That means only people with tickets or airport security passes can get to them.
“I’ve heard some complaints from my customers,” Ghent said. “But my question is the size of the spaces available.”
Creating more space might take a building addition, or maybe some creative re-arranging, said Siefers.
“We’re just seeing what we might be able to do right now,” he said.
Passengers will probably also notice more parking available. Plans are now being set to create more parking to the west of the existing parking lots, basically outside the airport administration building.
All the improvements are being paid for either with federal money, or with money generated at the airport through landing fees and passenger charges. But Ghent wondered if the new parking area is really needed.
“For the five Saturdays of the year it’s very busy, parking can be a problem,” he said.
“But the lots to the east of the terminal area are seldom filled up. The problem is people don’t appreciate the walk from the east lots to the terminal. It’s a source of inconvenience.”
But, Anderson said, convenience is a big part of plans for the airport that passengers will be able to see.
“We want to make them feel they’ve arrived at a resort,” Anderson said. “We want to make their way easier.”
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