Early estimate puts cost of expanding the Yampa Valley Regional Airport at $30 million

Airport director eyes funding from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

A Southwest Airlines plane sits on the tarmac at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in November 2021. Airport officials say a major expansion project is sorely needed to bring the airport in Hayden up to speed with the number of passenger who are currently using it.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

When built in 1966, the Yampa Valley Regional Airport terminal was just 6,000 square feet. Numerous additions since, the last completed in 2020, now have the building’s footprint at 72,000 square feet.

Airport Director Kevin Booth says it’s already starting to feel small.

“We’re really congested,” Booth said during a joint meeting with Hayden Town Council and Routt County commissioners on Thursday, Dec. 1. “That’s why we’re looking at the terminal and figuring out how to expand it.”

The airport in Hayden is seeing 50% more passengers than it did a decade ago, partially fueled by travelers’ desire for destinations like Steamboat Springs as air travel has ramped back up following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year saw more than 200,000 enplanements, which is a measure of how many people get on a plane in Hayden. Roughly twice that number of people used the airport last year.

Booth expects the number of passengers passing through the airport to continue to rise, which is why he is moving forward with planning to expand the terminal — a project that he estimated could cost as much as $30 million.

Even what Booth called a conservative estimate predicts more than 300,000 enplanements by 2040, meaning that 600,000 people will be using the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in a year.

“We want to be sensitive to the passenger’s experience, which isn’t always pleasant on a Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” Booth said.

Booth said there are opportunities to add to the 16 different airports across the country that have flights to the Yampa Valley in the winter and to expand with service to places other than Denver in the summer. There may be room for more flights to Denver too, as two-thirds of locals are opting to fly out of Hayden rather than drive, Booth said.

Southwest Airline’s Colorado One prepares for its return trip to Denver after landing at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in December 2020.

Not only has the number of passengers changed, but the planes they arrive on are larger than they were just a few years ago, Booth said. Rather than the smaller, 70-seat regional jets, airlines are consistently flying bigger, mainline aircraft that can seat as many as 160 passengers. However, these larger planes are too big for three of the airports’ nine parking spaces for planes.

Bigger planes require larger waiting areas in the terminal as well. United Airlines, the biggest carrier flying to Hayden, currently has two 70-seat waiting areas in the terminal, though United sometimes has three 150-seat planes on the tarmac.

Also, the baggage claim likely needs another bag belt, security needs another lane and there needs to be more space in the ticketing area, which is currently undersized for accommodating the six airlines that fly to Hayden during the ski season.

“Our concession areas are undersized, the snack bar is too tiny and even our restaurant is too small,” Booth said. “Circulation is not perfect. Ticketing and security both create problems.”

There is still a lot of planning before detailed expansion costs are firmer, but Booth estimated terminal expansion could cost $30 million, which will require funding from the Federal Aviation Administration. While the FAA typically isn’t a good source for terminal work funding, Booth said the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has about $5 billion earmarked for terminals.

“I don’t have $30 million to expand the terminal, so we really need the FAA’s help with this,” Booth said.

Booth said he has already secured FAA funding to update the terminal area plan, which was last refreshed in 2015. When that’s done in June, it will pave the way to apply for planning grants for additions to the terminal in 2024. If the project gets that funding, there could be grants available in 2025 and 2026 for construction.

The airport would still need to come up with a local match for the project that Booth said would be roughly 35% of the total cost. With expansion in mind, the airport has been saving up reserves, which now total about $22 million.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll get some (FAA funding), but we’ll still have a big bill to pay,” Booth said. “Do the math on a $30 million terminal expansion. That’s a lot of money.”

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