Customs coming to Eagle airport?
County commissioners have asked their attorney to study the possibilities of bringing a U.S. Customs agent and services to the airport, enabling private planes to clear U.S. Customs in Eagle County. Currently, planes coming from outside the United States must add a stop to clear customs somewhere else before landing in Eagle.
The U.S. Customs service in Eagle County would serve private aviation – not commercial airlines – and likely involve just one customs agent, said County Attorney Diane Mauriello. Currently, there aren’t any international commercial flights to the airport.
“This will encourage more people to come visit,” said Michael Gallagher, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. “International flights have to stop in another city to do customs, and that is discouraging for those who want to fly here.”
This is the first step towards becoming an international airport, added Commissioner Tom Stone.
“In the future, we’ll be able to accept international flights which will benefit the county economy,” he said. “The first step will probably be international charter flights.”
During 2001, approximately 350 private planes cleared customs elsewhere before landing at Eagle, said James C. Allen, chairman and chief executive officer of the Vail Valley Jet Center.
“The nearest facility is at Centennial Airport in Denver,” Allen said, “with no other options for international arrivals.”
In addition to Denver International Airport, Centennial Airport in Colorado Springs and Jefferson County Airport already have customs services.
To qualify, there are certain statutory requirements the airport will need to satisfy, Mauriello said, including demonstrating a need to U.S. Customs officials and gaining permission from Gov. Bill Owens.
“It’s unclear to me whether this will extend in the future to commercial,” Mauriello said. “This is just to get us started, our introduction to customs. We’re a small airport. At this point we don’t have physical space for an immigration office.”
Mauriello said she’s in the preliminary stages of investigating whether the airport meets state requirements to qualify. She expects to present more information to the county commissioners in early October.
Once approvals are in place, customs services could be up and running within two months, said Tom Maloney, chief customs inspector in Denver. Initially, the service would be based at the jet center. Over time it could grow into a dedicated customs facility.
“This is an opportunity to further raise the stature of our world-class airport,” said Becky Gadell, assistant county administrator. “With customs services, we can attract new international business, visitors and aircraft.”
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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