Commercial flights suspended

Travelers, agents hail taxis, curse construction

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— The loss of commercial flights at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden for 10 days is turning out to be a small boon for Alpine Taxi.

Flights on Great Lakes Aviation, the only commercial carrier at the airport during the summer season, ended Tuesday morning.

Flights were suspended while the airport reconstructs one of its connector taxiways. During construction, the runway has been shortened to 5,100 feet, which is not enough room for Great Lakes to operate.

Great Lakes provides six commuter flights per day to and from Denver.

Flights will resume Aug. 10 when construction is complete.

General aviation including Federal Express, Airborne Express and UPS operations continue to fly out of YVRA.

In the meantime, more residents are flying directly out of Denver, which has translated to more business for Alpine Taxi.

"It's gone to five shuttles, which is our winter schedule," said Office Manager Barb Hurley. "We've been quite full. We typically only have three shuttles in the summer. That's what we'll go back to after the paving project."

Travel agents say the Vail/Eagle airport is also getting overflow.

"Everyone from here is pretty well prepared," said Carlson Wagonlit Travel counselor Sandy Schwindy. "We booked a few out of Vail and several out of Denver. Corporate travelers that fly on a regular basis have made their arrangements in advance."

While they have adjusted customers' schedules, local travel agents remain frustrated about the timing of the runway work.

Airport Director Jim Parker and county commissioners have been criticized for scheduling the construction during the busy summer season. Only in the last six weeks was the decision by Great Lakes to suspend flights announced, forcing some travelers who had already made flight arrangements to reschedule their flights, sometimes at higher costs.

"The county commissioners knew about the airport maintenance business in February," Schwindy said. "I felt somebody should have informed the community to let us know."

Parker said he had no idea in February when maintenance would begin. At the time, he said, Great Lakes indicated the shortened runway would not be a problem.

"If the airlines had told us in February they would not be able to fly on that short runway, we probably would have scheduled this thing for a minimal impact to travelers," Parker said.

In fact, Parker said he didn't know until June 12 that Great Lakes couldn't operate their planes on 5,100 feet of runway. It then took the airport until July 15 to determine what week would be best for construction.

"We chose the nine days we would impact fewest travelers," Parker said. "We picked a weekend with the fewest booked passengers."

Earlier this summer, Great Lakes reduced the number of daily flights it offered from eight to six.

The company also changed the route it flies to Denver, saying the airline had not properly accounted for weight restrictions at the elevations along the route.

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