International, nonstop flights lands in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

International, nonstop flights lands in Eagle County

Veronica Whitney

Special to the DailyKim Belcher, right, a new customs agent at the Vail Valley Jet Center, speaks to the pilot of a corporate jet. The first international flight will clear customs Friday.

The first international flight to clear customs in Eagle County will land Friday at the county airport. The private flight, coming from Canada, marks the beginning of nonstop international flights into the Vail Valley Jet Center at Eagle County Regional Airport.

Since Sunday, U.S. Customs will perform immigration and agriculture inspections of private planes landing at the Jet Center. Before this weekend, planes coming from outside the United States had to stop at another airport to clear customs before landing in Eagle.

“This is a huge advantage for our guests,” said Bryan Burns, president of the Jet Center. “Instead of having to make an additional stop at a different port of entry, international flights can now come directly to (Eagle County). In terms of time and fuel, this can represent tremendous savings.”

The Jet Center will be the only airport to offer this service between Denver and Salt Lake City, and one of only 37 user-fee customs stations in the country.

Burns estimates that approximately 350 international flights arrive at the Jet Center every year after having cleared customs somewhere else. The majority of the international flights come from Mexico, Canada and Europe, he said.

“This new service will make travel to Vail and the Rocky Mountains faster and it will allow our airport to benefit from the purchase of fuel and other services,” Burns said.

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Gateway goals

The Jet Center has hired Kim Belcher, a U.S. Customs, Agriculture and Immigration agent to do the work, which initially will be for private and chartered planes.

“This is our first step to becoming a direct international gateway,” said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

An airport has to qualify with U.S. Customs to offer the service.

“If this is program is successful, we’ll explore getting customs for commercial flights. It would take a while to get it in place. Because of the additional security, the federal government is becoming a little stronger with its requirements,” Ingstad said.

Burns called the new service “a great added amenity to the valley.”

“From the customer side it’s beneficial because they save time and money,” he said. “They normally would have to make a stop either in Texas – for those coming from Mexico – or in North Dakota or Minnesota – for those coming from Canada. And that adds a couple extra hours travel time and more cost in fuel.”

Providing customs will cost the jet center $160,000 a year.

“We’re looking to break even,” Burns said. “But we’ve been listening to our visitors and the steps we are taking directly reflect their needs and desires.”

The user fees are based on the size of the plane – from $250 to $650 per arrival.

“We anticipate growth and larger fuel sales based on aircrafts arriving with emptier tanks since they didn’t stop before landing in the country,” Burns said.

An additional benefit could be a growth in the tourist and homeowner market, Burns said.

Radar remains

The customs process is convenient, Burns said. Those flying from Canada can get a permit within just three hours previous to the flight by calling U.S. Customs. Planes coming from Mexico are required to get an overflight permit from U.S. Customs that allows pilots to fly directly to Eagle.

“This is an important service, but the most important benefit to the airport will be a radar,” Burns said. “A radar can increase the capacity of aircrafts arriving by at least 20 percent. And we have the demand for more private planes.”

The county has been lobbying the federal government to help build an improved radar system at the airport. The advanced system would allow more planes to land in wintery or foul weather conditions.

The county, however, has built a new air traffic control tower. The $2.3 million tower, that began operating Nov. 19, puts air traffic controllers in a higher location, increasing visibility.

Aside from providing customs, the Jet Center also has:

– Opened a full-service maintenance facility run by Haggan Aviation from Centennial Airport near Denver, which will provide regular and scheduled aircraft maintenance as well as immediate repairs.

– Installed wireless Internet access throughout its terminal for use by guests and crew.

– Has begun work on a self-fueling station and additional hangar space.

“This is a significant improvement for both Eagle-based aircraft as well as our guests’ aircrafts,” Burns said. “No more having to go to Denver or Grand Junction for routine maintenance.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.