« Return to this article

Know the West

Next: Grand Teton International?

  Passengers who fly into the tiny Jackson Hole, Wyo., airport may not realize it, but they're landing inside a national park. Airline representatives have argued for years that the Jackson runway should be lengthened for easier access. But Grand Teton National Park officials and environmentalists have steadfastly opposed the idea, saying an expansion would further disturb the park's environment.


Now, a Delta Airlines decision discontinuing jet service into Jackson on Oct. 1 has revived the expansion proposal. Delta spokesman Ed Artzt says the company might not have abandoned Jackson if the 6,300-foot runway could be lengthened by 2,000 feet.


"A runway extension will not create more overflights (and) will not bring larger jets into the valley," he says. "There isn't anything about lengthening that isn't good for Jackson and for the people of Jackson."


Jackson Hole Airport board manager George Larson adds that the short airstrip makes it difficult for any plane to fly into the valley.


Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer agrees. He says the Jackson community has an obligation to provide a facility airlines would want to fly into, while airlines are responsible for ensuring air service to this rural market. "Ultimately, I feel that lengthening the runway is a need for Jackson," he says.


But the proposal has yet to get off the ground, thanks in part to continued opposition from park officials. "To discuss lengthening the runway for the purpose of enhancing a corporation's balance sheet doesn't seem to me a viable approach," says park superintendent Jack Neckels. "The purpose of the park is not to satisfy an airline's needs, or strictly to satisfy the desires of a local community. After all, it is a national park."


In September, the FAA released an environmental assessment analyzing options to add paved safety zones to the runway. These would not lengthen the runway but would bring it into compliance with federal standards.


* Rachel Odell