Airport getting new tower and customs |

Airport getting new tower and customs

Veronica Whitney
New Airport Tower 9-13 MK

Safer flying and customs are on tap for passengers flying into the county airport, starting November.

The new $2.2 million air traffic control tower will be operating in November and U.S. Customs will begin full operation at the Vail Valley Jet Center by the beginning of winter, said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

“The new tower puts the air traffic control people in a higher location increasing visibility. It will also allow the airport to handle increased traffic,” Ingstad said. “The tower is the beginning of our efforts to enhance the navigation system at the airport.”

The new 115-foot-tall air traffic control tower, which will replace the existing 43-foot tower, will allow for four controllers, while currently there’s just one. The current airport tower is a non-standard facility and was actually considered a temporary tower when moved to the north side of the airport in 1995.

With the new tower, the airport also enters a new program with the National Federal Aviation Administration, which will be in charge of hiring the air traffic control operators.

“The next step will be an instrument landing system,” Ingstad said. “Finally, we hope to put radar in place.”

Private planes flying into Eagle County this winter will be able to clear customs here instead of stopping at another port of entry in the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities in Denver will supply a customs agent who will be working out of the Vail Valley Jet Center.

Initially, only private planes coming from outside the country will be flying nonstop to the airport in Gypsum. Currently, about 300 private planes coming from outside the country must add a stop to clear customs somewhere else before landing in Eagle.

The Vail Valley Jet Center, which has agreed to take on the financial risk, has executed a five-year agreement with Eagle County to provide the space for the customs inspectors.

“This year has been a wonderful year for Eagle County Regional Airport,” Ingstad said. “July passenger loads, because of the summer direct flights to Dallas, were up a whopping 245 percent over last year. And we just received $4.2 million for taxiway improvements.”

The money comes from the FAA and the county already has started an environmental assessment, Ingstad added.

Eagle County also has purchased land adjacent to the airport for $1 million and will build rental car service center there.

The new center, which won’t be operational before winter 2004-05,

will centralize operations – including service, rental and returns – for all car rental companies, Ingstad said.

“We will pay the bonds through rental car fees and we will rent space to the car rental companies,” Ingstad said. “Airports usually put the car rental centers together. It makes everything smoother for rental car operations.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at

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