Region’s airports prepared for increased traffic during Jackson Hole Airport closure
March 16, 2022
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  • While the closure of the Jackson Hole Airport from April 11 to June 28 may complicate some people’s late-spring and early-summer travel plans, neighboring airports have made some tweaks and changes to their operations to accommodate added air traffic that would otherwise fly in and out of Jackson Hole.

    The Jackson Hole Airport is closing for a complete runway reconstruction that’s been planned for years, Airport Communications Manager Megan Jenkins said. That advance notice has allowed Idaho Falls Regional Airport, the Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport and others in the region to plan ahead for the additional flights landing at and leaving their airports.

    “We’re doing some things in anticipation of it,” said Rick Cloutier, the director of Idaho Falls Regional Airport. “Of course, with the exception of Bozeman, we’re larger than most of the other airports around here, so we kind of already have the capacity for it. But we have done some things because we do know the airlines are going to increase capacity. The airlines have already notified us that they’re going to add additional flights and also add larger planes to some of our flights.

    “So we expect a pretty good increase every month in additional passengers. We expect a pretty good increase in general aviation traffic or corporate and private charter, the type of aircraft that with Jackson Hole [Airport] being closed, they’ve got to go someplace.”

    Jenkins said rental car companies based at the airport will continue to rent vehicles throughout the airport’s closure.

    Cloutier said rental car companies at his airport have increased their fleets in anticipation of added demand, and Salt Lake Express will be running bus routes between Idaho Falls Regional Airport and Jackson Hole.

    In addition to commercial airlines flying more, and larger, planes in and out of Idaho Falls, Cloutier said the airport is making additional changes to handle the increased passenger traffic, some of which were already being planned and will be permanent. Those will include newly added TSA security lanes, more parking areas for private planes and more “taxiway space that we’ve been working on for about the past year,” Cloutier said.

    “We’ve increased capacity,” he said, adding that some of the increased capacity was already planned as the airport continues to grow. “It’s fortunate, we were just completing a construction project. … So we’ve been doing some expansion, not only for our own good but also in anticipation of some extra Jackson Hole passengers during this time period.”

    There were 253 commercial aircraft landings at the airport in April 2021, 369 in May 2021, and 868 in June of last year, according to figures provided on Jackson Hole Airport’s website. The total number of commercial passengers landing in Jackson Hole during each of those months last year was 17,320, 28,844, and 67,750, respectively.

    That totals more than 113,000 passengers on nearly 1,500 planes in a three-month spring span in 2021.

    Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport is not rated to allow commercial airplanes and has no plans for it. However, it too is bracing for an increase in the number of private planes that will use the airport during the closure of the Jackson runway.

    In a statement, the Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport Board acknowledged that the increase in the number of private planes using the runway will result “in increased traffic and noise for the 72 days that Jackson Hole Airport is closed. The FAA controls the runway regulations; thus, all private planes can land there if they choose.

    “The City of Driggs has no control over planes that decide to use the runway,” the board said. “However, the city and airport board are making changes during the closure to benefit Driggs Residents and maintain KDIJ as a sustainable rural airport.”

    The board’s statement notes that commercial passengers who would otherwise be flying in and out of Jackson Hole will likely use the Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City airports, in addition to Idaho Falls.

    The approximately 20 customers who keep their private planes with Jackson Hole Aviation, the airport’s fixed-base operator, have long since been apprised of their options, operations manager Keaton Brown said.

    “We’ve talked with each of them and kind of explained the options of alternate airports in the area,” Brown said. “So, Driggs, Idaho Falls, you know, and in some cases Afton and even Salt Lake City.”

    Brown said some private aircraft owners are using the airport’s closure to have work done on their planes, whether needed maintenance or repainting.

    Jenkins, the Jackson Hole Airport communications manager, said everything is on track for the runway reconstruction to be completed on schedule and the airport to reopen at 6 a.m. June 28, as originally planned. In fact, crews led by the lead contractor on the runway project, Denver-based Jviation, have been stockpiling materials at the site since last summer.

    Stuart Schiff, a project engineer with Jviation, said in an email that the company is using as much local and recyclable materials as possible, which has a number of benefits, including reducing environmental impact.

    “A significant portion of the base course aggregate that will be used for the new runway pavement section was produced from native soils excavated onsite in the location of a future underground stormwater detention and filtration system,” Schiff wrote in his email.

    “This onsite effort kept about 1,500 trucks off the road and saved approximately 35,000 gallons of fuel.”

    Additionally, he wrote: “Nearly all of the existing pavement section will be recycled and/or reused within the new runway pavement section and/or on airport perimeter roads.

    ‘This recycle/reuse effort will keep about 7,000 trucks off the road and save about 150,000 gallons of fuel.”

    Jenkins said the project is being documented by local teenager Isaac Crabtree, an aviation enthusiast who is helping the airport produce video blogs that are posted on the airport’s website and its YouTube channel for interested members of the public to follow its progress. The airport’s website also contains a list of nearby regional airports people might choose to use during the Jackson Hole Airport closure.

    Jim Elwood, executive director of the Jackson Hole Airport, thanked people whose travels are affected by the needed runway reconstruction for their understanding.

    “We appreciate the community’s patience throughout the duration of the runway project and look forward to welcoming everyone back at the end of June,” he said.