GYPSUM — The Eagle County Regional Airport is considering pay parking, among other things, to generate needed funding.
“We’re the only commercial airport in Colorado without pay parking,” Greg Phillips, airport director, told county commissioners on Tuesday when he briefed them on the need for more funding sources for projects outlined in the new master plan.
Paul Gordon, the president of the Vail Valley Jet Center, joined Phillips for the presentation.
“The 2012 Airport Capital Improvement Plan indicates the need for additional funding beyond what is currently available,” Phillips said. “Diversifying EGE’s funding sources would also improve the airport’s bond rating.”
One of the capital improvement projects proposed is improving the parking lot. Since it is considered a “landside” project — it is not part of the runway or part of the airport that affects air traffic — it is highly unlikely to receive grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Right now, we have this parking lot with no dedicated funding for its upkeep,” Phillips said. “I think we could implement pay parking that is still cheaper than the other airports.”
Noting that Aspen now charges $12 per day and Grand Junction $8 per day for parking, Phillips gave a conservative estimate that if the Eagle County airport charged $7 per day it would generate about $357,000 a year and potentially up to $500,000.
“For most airports, parking is their No. 1 revenue source,” Phillips said. “I recommend talking to some companies that do pay-parking systems and seeing what our options might be.”
Two other funding sources Phillips proposed are general aviation landing fees and a rental car service customer facility charge. Each of those could potentially bring in $500,000 a year.
Currently, the airport only charges landing fees to commercial flights at a rate of $3.22 per 1,000 pounds.
“We’re considered a high-cost airport by commercial carriers, which they take into account when considering service to our area,” Phillips said. “Other airports charge general (private) aircraft for landing fees, and we don’t.”
He suggested lowering the commercial landing fee slightly and charging visiting general aircraft.
“That may deter some general aviation, but what is $62 for a Cessna Citation (a medium-sized business jet) that costs $2,100 to fuel?” Phillips said.
He said local aircraft could be exempt from landing fees since they already pay in several other ways.
The current plan calls for the new landing fees to go into effect Nov. 1.
“In the end, we’ll support whatever makes sense for this community,” Phillips said. “We’re not building the Taj Mahal. The community got involved in the master plan, and we’ve taken almost two years identifying what we need. Now we have to figure out how to make that vision happen. We can also choose not to pursue this extra funding, but then we’ll have to scale way back.”
The commissioners agreed to have a work session in the future with pay-parking companies to consider that funding option at the airport.
“If we do that, I would prefer to go with a company from the area, so we keep the income in the valley,” said Sara Fisher, one of the commissioners.
The airport was recently awarded more than $3 million in grants to construct a new snow removal equipment building. The grants include $1.76 million from the Federal Aviation Administration and $1.4 million from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Total cost of the facility will be approximately $5 million, with the rest to come from airport fund reserves.
According to Phillips, the cost of a new piece of snow removal equipment ranges from $300,000 to $600,000.
“We have 16 pieces of expensive equipment that currently sit out in the elements year round, with limited space to maintain them properly,” he said. “We are grateful for the financial support to protect and maintain these critical investments. We’re also pleased that this project will be constructed without any financial burden to local taxpayers.”