Jackson Hole Airport’s unlikely position along the Aug. 21 solar eclipse’s path of totality, which literally bisects the runway, is a draw likely to cause a disruptive logjam of private and charter jets.
Hopeful inbound aircraft are already being turned away as the space designated to park planes and jets has become exhausted.
It’s a reality that is affecting businesses like New Flight Charters, a Jackson Hole-based company that arranges private jets and charter flights to destinations around the world.
“We had a flight booked and scheduled for the 21st that was going to come in empty to bring customers down to Salt Lake City for a commercial flight,” New Flight Charters President Rick Colson said, “and we had to cancel that because the [fixed-base operator] didn’t have any ramp space.
“On the customer side of it, it’s crazy,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like it. Basically, the FBO said, ‘We’ve got 70 unopened emails in our inbox, we’re full and we can’t promise anything.’”
The fixed-based operator he referred to, which houses, services and gases up private planes, is Jackson Hole Aviation. Phone messages left by the News&Guide were not returned.
Jackson Hole Airport Director Jim Elwood confirmed that the airport’s FBO has completely run out of space for additional aircraft on the ramp — aviation lingo for the plane parking area.
“The FBO started taking reservations for space a number of months ago, and they’ve now filled those opportunities,” Elwood said. “The analogy that comes to mind is hotels. If there’s not another room to be had, you can’t sell another room.”
Jackson Hole Airport has enough space for about 50 private planes, capacity that doesn’t account for rented hangar space and the apron for commercial jets. In large part because the airport’s 533 acres are leased from Grand Teton National Park, there’s a finite amount of space for developed infrastructure. Hypothetically, Elwood could not, for instance, tell his staff to mow down sagebrush to create an overflow parking area.
The impact of the eclipse on plane traffic appears to be profound, though Elwood said it’s too early to say if August 2017 will be the busiest month in the airport’s history.
During the six days hugging the eclipse, commercial airlines have booked an additional 15 flights inbound to Jackson Hole Airport — three more per day than normal.
Charter plane bookings are through the roof, Colson said. Already 36 charter flights have been scheduled to and from Jackson between the Thursday before the eclipse and the Wednesday following. Typically, he said, there’s about one charter flight a day during the month of August.
An untold number of noncharter private planes will also be coming and going.
Other nearby airports near the solar eclipse’s path of totality are facing similar situations and have also run out of space.
The Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport in Teton Valley, Idaho, has a completely full ramp, Colson said. The chances of getting a space at Idaho Falls Regional Airport is “pretty good,” he said, though when he last checked it was receiving about 15 landing requests a day.
Jackson Hole Airport has ordered a one-hour runway closure to be instituted immediately before and after the approximately two-minute totality strikes at 11:35 a.m. The Federal Aviation Administration is requiring that any planes that land using electronic instrumentation have a reservation do so on Aug. 21 at Jackson Hole Airport. Pilots who fly visually will be allowed to land without a reservation.
“If there turns out to be room for an airplane, we’ll certainly accommodate them,” Elwood said. If not, “they’ll have to immediately depart. Planning ahead makes a lot of sense, regardless of whether you’re flying or not.”
A town of Jackson and Teton County clearinghouse of information on the eclipse can be found online at TetonEclipse.com. The airport’s website, JacksonHoleAirport.com, also carries information about traveling during eclipse week.