Derek Franz

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January 16, 2013
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Airport's master plan nears completion

The Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE) 20-year Master Plan is in the final stretch.

County commissioners met with EGE representatives and Jviation consultants on Tuesday for an update on the plan. Jviation is a Denver-based firm hired in March 2011 to direct the master plan process.

The plan will ensure that development at the airport is consistent with the goals of the county and the community. It's being used to determine what facilities are needed, when they will be needed and how much they will cost.

EGE Director Greg Phillips said there are basically three parts left to complete before submitting the document for Federal Aviation Administration approval this spring.

"We're thinking we'll have a capital improvement plan and a financial strategy (to pay for the improvements) by March," he said.

The third step is drafting an airport layout plan that maps the property and improvements in detail.

Jviation plans to hold another open house for public input this spring.

Phillips reminded people that the improvements identified in the master plan will only be developed on an as-needed basis, with individual review and county approval for each project.

"Operations (take-offs and landings) are expected to increase 11 percent over 20 years," said Dave Nafie, planning manager for Jviation. "Meeting the level of demand will require expansion."

Enplanements (number of passengers boarding planes) are forecast to increase by 39 percent in 20 years and the number of private planes based at EGE are expected to rise by 41 percent.

"This is a highly seasonal airport and most traffic occurs in very concentrated periods," Nafie said.

Some of the key improvements include expanding the runway, taxiways and terminal. Phillips said EGE will likely need a longer runway if it attracts international flights.

"There is also some question about what kind of aircraft we'll be seeing in the future, as the Boeing 757 approaches retirement and new aircraft enter the airline fleet in coming years," he said.

Expanding the terminal is another key improvement that's on the table.

"It would be cheaper to simply expand outward (on the ground level) but we are already limited by our aircraft ramp depth and pushing the terminal out would push aircraft parking out to the point where they are unacceptably close to the runway. That could result in losing space to park the bigger planes at the gates and could, in the worst case, force us to move the runway," Phillips said. "The best option is to add space is to add a second level to the terminal holding room area, with room on either end to add gates as well."

The second level would likely be built within 10 years. In the course of the 20-year master plan, other identified terminal expansions will remain at ground level and cost about $27 million. The second-level expansion is anticipated to cost another $22.5 million.

The biggest expansion the terminal might see in the second phase is a second axis - an entrance that branches off to the south from the current building. Phillips said that would allow better access to more people and would also separate arriving and departing vehicle traffic on different roadways.

That would also affect parking, however. Parking is currently free at EGE.

"At some point, given the cost and need of these future improvements, it will be important to consider all revenue sources available to the airport. That includes the potential for paid parking," Phillips said.

Phillips said the rental car agencies might have to be moved off-site at some point, though that is not shown in the current master plan and likely would not be considered until sometime beyond the next 20 years.

"For now we want the rental cars at the terminal because convenience is our No. 1 selling point," he said.

The access road and parking improvements are projected to cost $24.5 million.

The commissioners recently ranked the priority of projects, with airfield safety, terminal improvements and roadways identified as most important. These rankings were also aligned with the priorities identified by the EGE Planning Advisory Committee, which met previously on Monday to preview the plan.

Phillips said there are basically five categories of funding options to cover the projects. First, there are the FAA entitlement and discretionary funds. (Entitlement funds are based on the number of enplanements at the airport and discretionary funds are doled out to projects that are shown to be high enough priorities.) The Colorado Department of Transportation also has a funding program for airports. Then there are local funds and bonds, with the possibility of some local or statewide grants to cover the projects, Phillips said.

Something that might sway a favorable relationship with the FAA is the fact that EGE is one of the first airports in the country to participate in a "planning for compliance" program.

"Our aim in this process is to show the FAA we're transparent and fully intent on complying with requirements by opening all our closets and drawers for them to see inside," Phillips said.

The FAA has many conditions and standards attached to its funding but it isn't able to dedicate its staff to actively see if airports are fully complying. The program is intended to have airports be proactive with the standards. If an airport is found out of compliance, it can be made ineligible for grants until it comes into compliance.

Phillips said a potential down side of participating in the program is that EGE might discover something out of compliance that requires corrective action. That hasn't been the case so far, though, and EGE's cooperation might help in "intangible ways," as one of the pilot program airports willing to participate, he said.

The commissioners are hoping to sign off on the final master plan in May, once it has been reviewed by the FAA, but Phillips warned that the FAA might take six months or longer to conduct its final review of the plan.

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The VailDaily Updated Jan 16, 2013 12:30PM Published Jan 16, 2013 12:28PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.