Rerouted planes land in valley

Poor weather at DIA leads to problems

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— Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden received some unexpected company Friday morning when the airport received seven unscheduled commercial flights after Denver International Airport was closed by poor visibility due to freezing fog.

"For a while it looked like a small hub airport around here," Airport Manager Jim Parker said. "There was a time when we started getting concerned about gate space."

Parker said Air Wisconsin sent five Dornier turboprops to the airport when they couldn't land in Denver. Continental Airlines routed a 737 to the Hayden airport, as did Midway airlines.

"The first one came in at 8 a.m. and they just kept coming," Parker said.

Combined with regularly scheduled flights at the airport, and one Air Wisconsin BAe-146 jet that never left for Denver from Hayden, there were 10 commercial planes on the apron at one time.

Parker said all of the passengers but those on the Midway 737 deplaned and entered the terminal. The Midway plane was sent to Hayden because it needed to refuel and the captain kept his passengers on board. They left for Denver within an hour. By noon, Parker said, all but a few of the smaller planes had been cleared to depart for Denver. He was uncertain of the original points of origin of the diverted aircraft.

Usually, it's the other way around when the airport experiences diverted flights. When ground visibility at Yampa Valley Regional Airport gets to less than half a mile, commercial aircraft bound for the Steamboat/Hayden area are sometimes diverted to Denver International Airport, and the passengers are bused here.

Friday's diversions kept ground crews busy but did not interfere with the arrival of regularly schedule flights at the airport, including a Northwest Airbus from Minneapolis and an American 757 from Dallas, Parker said.

Friday marked the second time in a week that fog closed the Denver airport and planes were diverted to the Yampa Valley. Parker said it's unusual, but not unheard of, for planes bound for Denver to be diverted here. He has not noticed an increase in frequency or a trend.

"We love it," Parker said of this week's diverted flights. In addition to some extra revenue for the airport food concessions, the diverted aircraft brought in unexpected landing fees for the local airport.

Landing fees are calculated on the weight of the aircraft, its freight and passengers. Parker estimated each of the Dorniers brought in an extra $66 in fees and the two 737s could have represented up to $230 apiece.

"It all adds up," Parker said.

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