Successful test flight big news for Eagle County airport | AspenTimes.com

Successful test flight big news for Eagle County airport

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Contributed photoThe CRJ700 regional jet would make flying to the Eagle County Regional Airport more profitable for airliners. Flights on the CRJ 700 jets are scheduled for February.

EAGLE, Colo. – A test flight of a regional jet at the Eagle County Regional Airport on Nov. 2 was just that, a test flight, but the results have airport and airline industry officials excited about the airport’s future.

Before the Eagle County Regional Airport’s runway was extended by 1,000 feet last summer, the types of commercial aircraft that could take off and land at the airport were limited. The most popular commercial plane flying in and out of the airport is the 757 because of the physical constraints planes have at the high altitude here, said Chris Anderson, the airport’s terminal manager.

But now that could change.

The CRJ700 regional jet would make flying to the Eagle County Regional Airport more profitable for airliners, and more attractive.

“There’s a cost benefit to us,” said Dave Jehn, managing director of North America planning for United Airlines.

United is the first airline jumping at the opportunity to use the jets. It plans to operate Eagle airport flights to and from the Denver hub using SkyWest Airlines’ aircraft under the United Express carrier name. Flights on the CRJ700 jets are scheduled for February.

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“The new runway allowed this aircraft in – it was too short before,” Jehn said.

The CRJ700 is a 66-seat jet offering first-class cabins and economy plus, which has more leg room than coach cabins. The jets offer faster, smoother flying, and the planes are newer, Jehn said.

“It just gives us better options in the off-peak periods and lower-demand times,” Jehn said. “Bigger airplanes allow us to connect more passengers. Now that we can put a 66-seat plane in the market, it allows us to feed more into our hubs.”

United had a special fleet of turbo prop planes to serve its mountain airports, but the planes were older and the on-board product wasn’t as nice, Jehn said. The regional jets are a much better product, he said.

Kent Myers, director of the EGE Air Alliance, a private/public group focused on growing service to the Eagle County Regional Airport, said the ability to fly in these regional jets is great news. He said it changes the paradigm, he’s just not sure yet by how much.

Vail Resorts is happy about the news, too, because now guests at its resorts could have more options. Adam Sutner, director of marketing for Vail Mountain, issued the following statement:

“The addition of the regional jet to Eagle Airport significantly upgrades air access to and from the Vail Valley for year-round customers, with the United Express carrier now providing first-class seats to Eagle Airport on all flights year-round, not just in peak seasons. The upgraded aircraft will also provide a greater measure of safety and reliability. We hope that this upgrade, in conjunction with continued offers from Vail Resorts such as Kids Fly Free and Fly in Ski Free, will open the door to other aircraft and market options for Eagle Airport on a year-round basis.”

Anderson said the potential to serve more markets is what’s most exciting. There’s opportunities for more flight routes and more frequent flights – a big step for the airport, he said.

lglendenning@vaildaily.com