By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
The busiest international airport in the state is back in business.
After a 78-day closure, the Jackson Hole Airport – with its new, eco-friendly, $44 million runway – resumed service Tuesday.
And the first flight, an American Airlines jet, received a hero’s welcome complete with water cannons christening its arrival.
Meanwhile the staff at the airport picked up pretty much where they left off, according to Kevin Dunnigan, the airport’s communications assistant.
“It was kind of like a normal Tuesday, in terms of enplanements and passengers coming through,” Dunnigan told Cowboy State Daily. “But we’re kind of shifting gears now as a staff, from reopening to getting ready for the July Fourth holiday.”
The midsummer celebration is typically one of the busier travel times of the year for the only airport in the country located in a national park (the airport merged with Grand Teton National Park in 1950). Because of the popularity of Grand Teton and Yellowstone in the summer, air traffic in Jackson peaks in the summer.
“This weekend, and then into July Fourth, we’ll see those numbers tick up a little bit,” Dunnigan said.
The Jackson Hole Airport hosts four major airlines year-round – Alaska, American, Delta and United – and in the summer months, Allegiant, Frontier and Sun Country Airlines offer direct flights between Jackson and Denver.
So the closure of the airport for major renovations did cause a bit of a dent in the local economy, according to Dunnigan.
“It definitely had an impact, but we’ve seen, just anecdotally, that the tourists are still coming,” he said, pointing out that the majority of visitors coming to Jackson choose to drive rather than fly.
For those who do arrive by plane (and that’s a significant number – in 2019, the airport saw around 455,000 passengers), their aircraft will be landing on a state-of-the-art runway made by recycling the material that was torn up from the previous runway.
Airport communications Director Meg Jenkins told Cowboy State Daily earlier this year that by milling the old runway, it would save thousands of dollars in materials and fuel.
“That part is estimated to keep about 8,500 trucks off our local roadways, and save 187,000 gallons of fuel,” Jenkins said.
Additionally, an eco-friendly drainage system was built into the project, filtering runoff from the tarmac through layers of rock and soil.
“This runway, to my knowledge, will be the most environmentally respectful runway with those drain systems and filtration of any runway that I’m aware of in the United States,” said Jim Elwood, Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Airport.
And although the major renovations are complete, Dunnigan said there’s more work to be done.
“During the closure, we started first demolishing and now remodeling the restaurant that we have on site,” he said. “We’re looking at having that completed by November of this year.”