Runway woes

Planned repairs at airport mean commercial flights will shut down for 10 days

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— Yampa Valley Regional Airport west of Steamboat Springs will be without commercial airline service for 10 days this summer, probably July 31-Aug. 9, due to construction.

Airport Manager Jim Parker was careful to point out the airport is not closing; however, the effective length of the runway is being reduced from 10,000 feet to 5,100 feet due to a construction project that will rehabilitate the commercial aviation taxiway at the airport. Earlier in the year, Parker believed commuter turboprops that serve the airport would be able to continue to fly during the construction. He found out differently this week.

Parker said he talked to officials of Great Lakes Aviation on Thursday who confirmed what he had already been told they would not attempt to operate while the length of the runway at YVRA is shortened.

"We certainly don't like to displace passengers," Parker said. "But we've been planning this project for a long time. We notified the airlines early in the year and asked if (the shorter runway length) would impact their aircraft. The contractor is on site he's ready to go."

Shirlee Finney of Great Escape Travel said she learned of the planned interruption in service this week from the United Express station manager at YVRA. Great Lakes does not fly as United Express, but contracts with the company for ground handling here.

As late as 4 p.m. Thursday, Parker was anticipating the construction and thus the suspension of service, would take place July 17-26.

However, later in the day he said he received verbal assurances from the project manager for Connell Resources that the company could delay the work until the first week in August. That move would alleviate concerns over a large convention planned here during late July.

The convention is the annual meeting of the national contracting firm TIC, which is based in Steamboat.

A company spokeswoman said the company plans to bring 200 people in on Great Lakes that week, and the flights are already booked.

"It would affect us big time," TIC Marketing Assistant Gail Hanley said, if Great Lakes were to suspend flights in late July. "We're bringing people in from all over the country."

Parker was attempting to contact Great Lakes late Thursday to inform them of the potential date change for the construction project.

Great Lakes officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Airport records show the airline had already booked 614 inbound passengers and 550 outbound passengers for the 10 days, July 17-26.

The most recent monthly report for the airline showed Great Lakes boarded more than 1,400 passengers at YVRA in May.

Any confusion over the impact of the shorter runway on the commercial aircraft might have resulted from changes in airline service into YVRA, Parker said.

Air Wisconsin was serving the airport with 32-passenger Dornier aircraft when the notification went out, but that commuter airline has since suspended local service until next ski season.

Great Lakes was flying into the Yampa Valley with both Beech 1900s and 30-passenger Brasilias.

As recently as March, airline officials said they would continue to use a mix of the two aircraft here, but since have focused entirely on the Brasilia.

Great Lakes' Vice President of Marketing Dick Fontaine told Steamboat Today earlier this week that the Brasilia is already struggling to keep its flight schedule in and out of YVRA because of weight restrictions that limit the number of passengers and amount of payload the aircraft can handle.

Parker confirmed that shortening the runway could further exacerbate the weight restriction problems for the Brasilia.

The combination of YVRA's high elevation and hot summer days that reduce air density are the primary reasons for the weight restrictions.

Connell Resources' contract to rehabilitate the taxiway is valued at $1.4 million, Parker said, and that figure does not include engineering costs.

The FAA is paying for 90 percent of the project, and Routt County must come up with the remaining 10 percent.

It isn't actually the parallel taxiway, but a short connector which aircraft use to travel between the runway and taxiway and known as "alpha 4 taxiway," that will cause the runway to be shortened, Parker said.

The connector is well inside a 250-foot safety zone that runs outward from the centerline of the runway, Parker said.

During construction, a pit almost 4 feet deep will be dug in Alpha 4 to permit installation of new road base and asphalt.

Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison said Parker has kept the commission well informed of the construction plans and commissioners understood all along that the impacts of the construction project on aircraft operations wouldn't be fully known until the contract was awarded and the contractor, airport management, the FAA and the airline could all consult.

The shortened runway could also have an impact on private planes landing at the airport.

Dave Seed, the line supervisor for Spectrum Jet Center at YVRA, said it's likely just the larger corporate jets that use the airport would be unable to land. Smaller jets will probably make their own call as to whether 5,100 feet is enough runway.

Spectrum Jet Center, a private business that services the needs of general aviation at the airport, has about a half dozen regular customers who are not based at YVRA but fly in frequently, Seed said.

When the runway shortens at YVRA, Eagle County Airport, 100 miles to the south, will probably be their best option. Small business jets occasionally fly into Steamboat Springs Airport.

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