Small planes booted from airport hangars

October 18, 2017 GMT

The handful of remaining pilots who base and fly their “light” propeller-driven airplanes out of Jackson Hole Airport have been told that their days storing their aircraft in covered hangars are numbered.

Current light aircraft tenants of the airport’s fixed-based operator, Jackson Hole Aviation, include the business Fly Jackson Hole, Harrison Ford, Mike May, Lisa Robertson and others. They’ve been told to remove their aircraft by Dec. 1 to open wintertime hangar space that has been committed to larger aircraft based in the valley, Jackson Hole Aviation Operations Manager Keaton Brown said.

“Current leases and reservations require all available space for the foreseeable future until new hangars are built,” Brown said in an email.

Jackson Hole Airport’s springtime demolition of Hangar 3 and 14 T-hangars displaced 17 aircraft and created a dearth of covered storage. The derelict hangars were razed to create space for commercial jet parking, new hangars and other uses. Most of the displaced planes left Jackson Hole Airport altogether, but a handful — those that have until December — were accommodated temporarily by Jackson Hole Aviation.

“I’ve been advised that they had in place commitments for that hangar space as they went into winter, so they’re honoring those commitments,” Airport Director Jim Elwood said. “I think Jackson Hole Aviation accommodated those Hangar 3 tenants as long as they could.”

Flying over the pass

The number of light aircraft housed at Jackson Hole Airport has sagged in recent years, and many pilots now keep their planes at Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport in Driggs, Idaho. Come December it is possible no more light aircraft will be based in Jackson Hole.

Elwood said the decline may also have something to do with industry trends.

“If you look at national data on aircraft and hours flown,” he said, “light general aviation is simply not as vibrant as it once was. They’ve seen a national decline in the utilization of light general aviation airplanes.”

Construction of a replacement for Hangar 3 was supposed to begin this year but has been held up amid the in-limbo status of general aviation at the airport. The specifications to which the hangar will be built depend on whether Jackson Hole Airport purchases Jackson Hole Aviation or begins contracting with a competing fixed-based operator. A decision is expected by Nov. 1.

A new business called Wyoming Jet Center is vying to be the second fixed-based operator. Greg Herrick, the company’s founder, said he’s sympathetic with the pilots and businesses who are being displaced.

“It puts people in a very difficult position,” Herrick said, “because they’re trying to find storage for their aircraft.

“One of the issues Wyoming Jet Center is trying to address is there’s only one general aviation option, and that’s unfortunate,” he said. “I don’t feel this situation would be happening if there were two FBOs.”

Encouraging competition

Richard Sugden is a pilot and Jackson physician who owns the general aviation company in Driggs, and he once owned the company that became Jackson Hole Aviation. Speaking at a Sept. 20 airport board meeting, he encouraged Jackson Hole Airport to bring competition into the market.

“Recently I became aware that there may be an opportunity to start a second FBO here in Jackson,” Sugden said, “which I think is great, because nothing can beat competition.

“Prices are better, services are better, people compete,” he said. “That’s our country.”

Light aircraft owners, in the meantime, are making the best of the lack of hangar space and waiting for the general aviation situation to shake out.

Fly Jackson Hole owner Pete Lindell is one of the people who was kicked out of Hangar 3 and is now losing the makeshift hangar space he has relied on for storing aircraft used for scenic aerial tours and flight schools. Nevertheless, he remains hopeful he will find a temporary spot for his four-seat plane so his flight school students and pilots can keep flying through the winter.

“It’s going to be a hard winter,” Lindell said. “But I’m optimistic that we’re going to see some changes here in the next year and things will be better for light general aircraft.”