Eagle County airport is planning for the next 20 years | VailDaily.com

Eagle County airport is planning for the next 20 years

Forecasts expect roughly 20% increase in operations over the next two decades

A new master plan for the Eagle County Regional Airport will try to anticipate how best to serve commercial and private aviation passengers over the next 20 years.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Eagle County is planning for the next 20 years of operation at the Eagle County Regional Airport. It looks like the facility will get busier in years to come.

That effort is required at all airports that receive federal funds, and planning is already underway, a joint effort between airport officials and consultants at Jviation.

Parts of the plan

Here’s a look at some of the elements to consider in the next master plan for the Eagle County Regional Airport:

  • Engage stakeholders and the public
  • Assess the functionality of the terminal for current and future demand
  • Plan surface transportation and parking to improve connectivity and convenience
  • Identify emerging aviation and airport-related technologies

The project website is egemasterplan.com.

Part of the planning effort is looking at forecasts for the next 20 years. While growth is expected, the forecast is for roughly 20% growth across most categories. Those categories include commercial and private flights, as well as air taxi and military operations.

Those forecasts tend to be “more art than science,” Jviation project manager Jim Miklas said. It’s impossible to forecast pandemics or national economic meltdowns. That’s why there are optimistic and pessimistic forecasts.

But at the moment, the airport’s commercial passenger numbers are on a solid upward swing. There were roughly 221,000 enplanements in 2022, the most since 2008.

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The forecasting part of the plan leads to looking into future needs for facilities. That process includes analyzing alternatives, then picking preferred courses of action.

With preferred alternatives identified, officials then look at financial and other plans.

Private jets are a big part of the traffic at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The process is expected to be complete by early 2024.

In a recent presentation to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Hilary Fletcher of Jviation said the process needs to be “forward thinking.” In addition, she said, “We want to educate the public. There’s a lot of opportunity to dispel myths about what an airport can and can’t do.”

One of the things an airport plan doesn’t address is air service development. That’s left to other entities. In Eagle County, that job falls to the EGE Air Alliance, a group of government and private-sector interests.

The public is included in that process, of course. There have already been a couple of public meetings. Public comments are being taken on the project website until Feb. 24. More meetings are set for June 5 and 6 this year.

Before the meetings, a handful of comments had been received. Those comments focused on the need to better coordinate flights from Eagle County to Denver with connecting flights elsewhere, and the need for more affordable airfare for local residents.

The plan will also focus on ways to make the airport more environmentally sustainable.

Fletcher said the planning group has met with airport staff, who pushed for technology upgrades. In addition, the airline industry is looking into replacing diesel-powered aircraft tugs with electric equipment. That’s already being done at the Vail Valley Jet Center, which caters to private aviation.

That facility, located east of the commercial passenger terminal, was last year honored by Walking Mountain Science Center for efforts that include switching to electric aircraft tugs.

Jim Miklas, Jviation’s project manager, said the Eagle County plan will reflect the county’s sustainability initiatives.

Operations at the Eagle County Regional Airport are expected to grow by about 20% over the next 20 years.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The plan will present possibilities. But, Miklas said, action is ultimately up to county officials.

And, he added, while the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t weigh in on master plans, the agency “wants to make sure what you’re planning for fits in with their plans,” Miklas said.

The plan also can help determine funding for future projects, Fletcher said. But the potential facility needs have to be well-defined, she added.

“What (federal officials) don’t want is building in anticipation — they want to see the demand is coming,” Fletcher said.

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