DRIGGS — It’s gonna be an interesting spring for air travel in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. The Jackson Hole Airport will be closed for between April and June for a much-needed runway overhaul.
The Jackson Hole Airport is coming off an August in which the airport saw its second busiest month ever. Although the runway overhaul will take place in the less busy spring months, the closure is still set to impact every airport in the Greater Yellowstone region.
Yellowstone National Park usually opens in late April.
Driggs in particular is positioned to feel the brunt of the resulting scramble to get planes a place to land, even with Driggs Reed Memorial Airport only able to accommodate corporate jet and general aviation traffic. Driggs Reed Memorial Airport is the closest airport to Jackson Hole Airport.
The Driggs Airport Board has had the Jackson Hole Airport closure topic on its agenda since its August meeting. The board has mainly been working with officials at the Jackson Hole Airport during the early stages of planning for the closure.
Don Moseley, chairman of the Driggs Airport Board, talked about the process so far.
“We’ve been really focused on Jackson right now,” Moseley said. “One of our board members, Matt Angle, has gone to a Jackson Airport board meeting and we’re going to have a coordination meeting with them in the January-February time frame.”
Idaho Falls will take the brunt of the Jackson-bound commercial aviation travelers. Cody’s Yellowstone Regional Airport and Bozeman’s Yellowstone International Airport will become the closest commercial airports to Yellowstone National Park.
Along with the above mentioned airports, Driggs, West Yellowstone, Montana, and Pinedale, Wyoming’s airports will help accommodate the remaining corporate jet and general aviation aircraft. Alpine, Wyoming’s airport can only accommodate general aviation traffic as it’s a smaller facility than Driggs.
Challenges that the Driggs airport will face include noise, aircraft parking and other effects as a result of the increased operations.
Noise abatement, one of the more tense issues in the valley concerning the airport, is high up on the airport board’s priorities.
“One thing that we’re focused on is noise abatement,” said Moesley. “With the increased traffic we’re expecting to happen between April and June, we really have been pulling out all the stops.”
Moseley mentioned a new airport webpage “which should go live in December.” On that webpage will be a reminder for pilots about noise abatement procedures, and a section for residents to report excessive noise.
“For pilots coming in, the webpage will have the noise abatement procedure so they can review that and minimize the noise in the valley,” said Moseley. “We want to have a noise comment section, so if someone has an issue or wants to submit information (the time/location, etc.), we can have data to go back on.”
The Jackson Hole Airport already has signs around the airport facilities to remind pilots of proper procedures. “Airplanes” and “quiet” hardly go together in the same sentence, but Moseley knows that pilots can cut back on excessive noise.
“I know it sounds silly, but it says please fly quietly under the noise abatement procedure,” said Moseley. “There are things pilots can do to really minimize noise. Yes, for safety pilots need to take off at power and establish a safe climb away from the ground but, once that pilots do that, they can power back and reach a lower noise level.”
The airport’s circling patterns also help with the noise abatement procedure, aiming to keep pilots to the north and west of Driggs.
Increased auto traffic around the terminal is also expected to potentially cause problems, due to the oddly shaped Rodeo Drive intersection.
Lori Kyle, airport board administrator, mentioned how that intersection could be a problem.
“There’s a concern with Rodeo Drive which comes out of the airport, it’s an awkward intersection,” said Kyle. “That’s where our conversation kind of goes, that particular intersection, but it was a concern before the pandemic.”
One of the biggest concerns is the lack of airplane parking and hangar space, which is in short supply.
“It will be a squeeze at certain times on certain days,” said Kyle. “Jackson will reopen at the end of June but it will be a short period, and we anticipate that a lot of that traffic will just land and drop off their clients and then go to another larger airport where they can park.”
As far as the hangar space is concerned, the airport has run out of lots to build on.
“There’s just not a whole lot of lots or places to put hangars at this point,” said Kyle. “We get a stream of calls every day from people who are looking for a hangar or a lot to build on. It’s tight.”
Moseley and the airport board will continue to receive information from Jackson Hole Airport over the next couple of months. After board members get a better understanding from Jackson, they will then be in touch with other regional airports.
“As far as the other airports, obviously Idaho Falls is going to take the brunt of the commercial traffic increase,” Moseley said.