Yampa Valley Airport wraps up renovations in time for ski season rush
Next week the airport will ramp up the number of flights each day, and Southwest Airlines will make its inaugural flights in Hayden.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa Valley Regional Airport completed a $5.2 million project renovating the terminal and making upgrades around the airport to accommodate the addition of Southwest Airlines to the lineup flying out of Hayden.
The airport will ramp up next week when the carriers begin their winter season flights, moving from having a handful of flights each day to nearly two dozen.
How busy the airport will be this season is still up in the air. Kevin Booth, the airport’s director, said he is budgeting as if planes will be about half full, a conservative estimate. Delta Airlines has opted out of its flights from Hayden to Atlanta and Minneapolis this season, but the addition of Southwest still increases the total number of seats on flights over last season.
The renovations give the airport more space and could accommodate another airline if one was looking to fly out of the airport. When Southwest has its inaugural flights next week — which will feature gift bags for all passengers on those first flights — it will make Hayden its first mountain airport.
More projects are on the way, too, as Booth said they are looking to add to their de-icing space, so planes don’t get backed up when they need to do that before takeoff.
Booth said they are also getting ready for the increase in traffic in the airport in terms of COVID-19.
“We want people to feel safe when they are here,” Booth said.
They have taken the lead from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which partnered with the Global Bio-risk Advisory Council to develop mitigation plans for the virus. Booth said they use their protocols now, and he expects they will be certified by the group next week.
The airport also invested in electrostatic sprayers, the same ones used by United Airlines, and the entire terminal is cleaned every night. Smaller hand-held sprayers are used to clean smaller areas, like bathrooms, and about 10 minutes after being sprayed down, the area is ready for people again.
To try to stay ahead in case another airline wanted to fly out of Hayden, Booth approached the Federal Aviation Administration about expanding the terminal. At the time, the airport was in talks with Southwest, but there was no deal for them to fly out of Hayden.
“We have the potential to attract additional air service, which is what the FAA is all about, but I don’t have room in my terminal to do it,” Booth said.
Booth said the FAA typically doesn’t give money for terminal work because terminals can generate revenue for themselves. Instead, federal dollars typically go toward pavement work on runways and other projects that do not add to the airports coffers.
The airport has advantages over others like the length of the runway and that it as at a lower elevation than other mountain airports, Booth said. Features like this are attractive to airlines because it makes flying safer.
The FAA was able to allocate the funding for the project, supplying 90% of the cost. The airport and the state split the last 10% of the cost, provided that the state share stays below a quarter-million dollars, which this project did.
The project started in April, and construction fences were taken down Friday. There are still little tasks to finish up before the flights ramp up next week, but Booth said they are ready for the airport to get busy.
The project converted an outdoor curbside luggage area into an indoor space that will be home of Southwest. It has two baggage scanning machines, one of them brought in because of the addition of another airline.
It also took advantage of a weird nook in the building, expanding into that space and creating another gate in the secure area. They consulted with Southwest to make the space work for them, with the main gate podium on one side with a smaller ticket-scanning podium near the gate door.
Still, the space is designed to be able to move the main podium if a different airline eventually used the space.
Part of the project updated an older part of the terminal, refinishing the outside of the building to match the rest, replacing the doors, windows and insulation and making all of it air conditioned.
The project also addressed a problem with temperature in the secure area. Because passengers walk on the tarmac to board a plane, the gate door in the terminal leads directly outside. When loading a larger plane, the door would be open for at least 10 minutes, if not more, and the cold westerly wind chilled out the other passengers waiting for a flight.
“You would stand in our American gate, and it would be 70 degrees, and by the time they finish boarding, it would be down in the 40s in the gate,” Booth said. “The system would react, but it would take another hour to get it back up to temperature.”
Vestibules have been added to all the gates to keep the winter out of the terminal while passengers board a plane. The doors have motion detector doors so that it will close anytime there is a gap between people.
“The hope is that we don’t have those big swings of temperature and, ultimately, that we save some money on heating and cooling the terminal,” Booth said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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