Eagle Co runway closed in ’09? | VailDaily.com

Eagle Co runway closed in ’09?

EAGLE COUNTY ” If the Eagle County Regional Airport has to close to commercial jets, next summer’s probably a good time to do it. That, at least, is the opinion of several people in the business of local tourism promotion.

The runway will be closed between April and August of next year so crews can lengthen the airport’s lone runway by 1,000 feet. The project, which started with a massive earth-moving project in 2006 and 2007, was supposed to be finished this year, but was delayed due to the skyrocketing costs of concrete and other materials.

The project will probably have an effect on a summer air program that local business leaders have been trying to build for several years. But people involved with promoting summer service are convinced the long-term benefits will be worth the short-term hit.

“For the most part, I think it will just be an inconvenience,” said Laurie Mullen, co-owner of West Vail Liquor Mart and a member of a the local boards that promote summer tourism and summer air service.

“Obviously, you want all the channels possible to bring people in, but we have a couple of airports nearby people can use,” Mullen said.

Once the work is done, the Vail Local Marketing District plans to aggressively market fall flights into the airport in Gypsum, Mullen said.

Given the continuing national economic slump, people in the tourism marketing business didn’t expect packed planes next summer.

“Is there ever a good time to do this? No,” said Kent Myers of Airplanners, an Edwards-based air-service consulting company. “But with everything that’s happening in the industry, and with the national economy, this is about as good a time as you can have to do this.”

Myers said he expects even more shake-ups in the airline industry over the next six to 12 months. That means the air service picture will be more clear when the runway reopens late next summer.

And when the runway reopens, it’s going to provide airlines more options than they’ve had in the past.

The 1,000-foot runway extension will allow the Boeing 757 jets ” which make up the bulk of the jets flying into the county airport ” to leave with full loads of passengers and fuel. That’s something they can’t do now, especially in the summer, when the already-thin air at the airport is even thinner as it’s warmed by the summer sun.

That’s why the American Airlines flight to Dallas only leaves fairly early in the day.

The ability to take off with a full load will allow airliners to leave in the middle of the day, Myers said.

The extra runway length will also allow direct service in the summer between Eagle County and the East Coast.

That’s something Myers calls a “game changer” in the summer air business.

Until then, though, there are going to be some hits.

The town of Gypsum is figuring to lose about $400,000 in tax revenue from cars that won’t be rented next summer.

Rob LeVine, general manager of The Antlers at Vail, said he expects to take at least some sort of hit from the lack of air service.

“But it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

Chris Romer, marketing director for the Vail Valley Partnership, said marketing plans for next summer are going to focus even more heavily on bringing Front Range tourists to the Vail Valley.

Despite the lack of air service and a lackluster national economy, Don Cohen, director of the Economic Council of Eagle County, said he expects that people who regularly vacation in the Vail Valley will continue to come. The loss, he said, may be from people who might not travel anyway because they’re cutting back in the family budget.

“We’re shutting down during a down economic cycle,” Cohen said. “There are better days ahead, and then we’re done. We’re actually getting pretty lucky.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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