Will international flights land in Eagle County?
April 26, 2010
EAGLE – Direct flights from foreign airports into the Eagle County Regional Airport may be one step closer.
Eagle County officials are working on a deal with the Vail Valley Jet Center – which provides services to private jets that fly into the airport – that might allow international flights to use the old commercial passenger terminal at the airport. That space is basically unused now.
Airport representative Chris Anderson said that the county and the Jet Center are near an agreement to split the cost of a $25,000 study to determine whether an international terminal would be economically feasible.
Part of that study would include the cost of converting the current customs desk at the Jet Center to one suitable for commercial flights. The customs desk now at the airport is authorized to handle up to 20 passengers per flight. Turning that facility into one capable of handling a 200-passenger commercial flight will take both manpower and equipment, both of which must meet federal standards.
Anderson said the most recent estimate to create a commercial customs facility was more than $3.5 million, prohibitively high for the county.
But, Anderson said, a new director of the federal port system has recently said that standards might be loosened enough to make an international terminal more affordable. If it comes to pass – still a pretty big if – international flights into the airport could be a boon to airport traffic.
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“There’s a large clientele of people coming to Vail and Aspen from Mexico, Central America and South America,” Anderson said. “It would be a big convenience factor for them, and might bring more people.”
Local aviation consultant Kent Myers said virtually any international flight would have to stop for fuel before landing in Eagle County. But, he said, passengers – and, presumably, their baggage – would stay on their planes during refueling, making those flights “non-stop,” and eliminating the need for connecting flights.
The EGE Air Alliance, an association of businesses and local governments, has a to-do list for the coming ski seasons that includes flights from Mexico City, Toronto and either London or Frankfurt, Germany. Those flights haven’t been lined up yet, Myers said, and there are still plenty of questions to answer before any international flights arrive.
Myers said one of the questions is whether businesses and governments in the Aspen area will get involved in the process, to broaden the appeal of the flights.
Anderson said he expects to know more in the next few months whether an international terminal is really a good idea, or just sounds like one.