Officials celebrate first flight at renovated Eagle airport
September 2, 2009
GYPSUM, Colo. – Lanny Green looked a little surprised getting off his plane Tuesday. It’s hard to blame him. It’s not every day getting off a plane gets a guy a cookie, a couple of hats and a serenade.
The first commercial flight into the Eagle County Regional Airport since April was greeted with a fair amount of mountain-style pomp and circumstance. Musicians played “Fly Me to the Moon.” Caterers were on hand to give out cookies. And officials from Eagle County and Vail Resorts were there to greet both incoming and outgoing passengers.
Green – an antique furniture specialist with clients in Vail – had flown in from Chicago Tuesday morning. He landed first in Denver, then caught the twin-engine turboprop flight to Eagle.
“This is great,” Green said. “I’ve flown from Denver to Aspen before, but this is the first time I’ve done this. It’s convenient.”
The lengthened runway – now almost entirely finished after two summers of work – is intended to put the airport in range of farther-flung destinations, mainly because the extra tarmac will allow the jets that now use the airport – mostly Boeing 757s – to take off with full loads of passengers and fuel in the summer. That’s something those airplanes hadn’t been able to do before the expansion.
“This is going to help us year-round,” Vail Resorts air program manager Gabe Shalley said. “Mostly it will help in the spring summer and fall, but it may be a help to bring new aircraft in here.
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Those aircraft – mostly smaller regional jets such as the Boeing 737 – don’t have the power the bigger 757 has, so they weren’t able to fly out of Eagle County in the summers with enough passengers on board to make the flights worthwhile for the airlines.
Using those smaller jets on the longer runway could make summer routes more attractive to airlines, Shalley said.
But the current winter flight program is going to expand this season. There will be another flight from Miami this winter, as well as a new direct flight from Detroit.
“We’re happy to have Detroit,” said Adam Sutner of Vail Resorts. “Michigan’s a state with a real passion for skiing.”
The longer runway could also potentially allow international flights in the winter. But that isn’t going to happen any time soon.
The problem, Commissioner Peter Runyon said, is the cost of a dedicated customs and immigration center at the airport.
“Just renovating the building (the old passenger terminal) could cost $5 million or more,” Runyon said.
For now, though, passengers seem to like again having the convenience of being able to fly from Eagle to Denver, then to virtually anyplace in the world.
Margot and Bob Jardien, of Glenwood Springs, were on the first flight from Eagle County to Denver Tuesday, the first air leg of a trip to Ireland.
“This is the quickest, easiest way to fly out,” Bob Jardien said. “We fly out of here whenever we can. It’s nice to have the service again.”