Eagle airport expansion under way

Vail hopes to boost business, tourism with longer runway

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— One of Aspen's biggest resort competitors is undertaking a $22 million runway expansion so it can accommodate more commercial airline flights during winters and summers.

Eagle County Airport is closed to most commercial traffic until Sept. 1 so 1,000 feet can be added to its runway. When the work is finished, the runway will be 9,000 feet long. The addition will be particularly beneficial to summer tourism for the resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek, Eagle County Manager Keith Montag said. He said the airport hopes to attract direct commercial service from major markets such as New York City during summers after the runway is completed.

The Eagle County Airport faced the same issue as the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport during hot weather. The combination of high temperatures and the altitude limits the amount of passengers and fuel that commercial flights can load and still take off with their existing runways, said Chris Anderson, terminal manager at the Eagle County Airport. By extending the runway, aircraft can increase their payloads and fuel loads to reach destinations farther away with nonstop flights, he said.

The addition of the 1,000 feet is the third phase of a three-year project to improve Eagle County Airport's runway. The Federal Aviation Administration is covering 95 percent of the cost, Montag said.

The Pitkin County commissioners last September authorized an environmental study about the feasibility of lengthening the Aspen-Pitkin County runway by as much as 1,000 feet. The business community touts the extension as a way to make the airport more attractive to air carriers.

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