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Heber Valley Airport begins 2022 with frequent flights despite canceled Sundance

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Ben Lasseter
/
KPCW News
A flier loads a plane for departure in front of the OK3 Air fueling station at the Heber Valley Airport.

Even though the Heber Valley Airport didn’t experience the usual late-January bump in air traffic from the Sundance Film Festival, air traffic is still increasing.

Last week, the number of flights coming through the airport was almost double the number the airport serviced during the same week in 2020.

That’s according to FlightAware, a website that collects data on airports worldwide.

Nadim AbuHaidar is the president and CEO of OK3 Air, the private aviation servicing company at the airport. He says air traffic has grown in correlation with the arrival of high-end residential developments around Park City and the Heber Valley. And since the pandemic began, the popularity of private aviation has soared.

“You could probably almost track it exactly to the growth,” AbuHaidar says. “If you look at real estate prices, developments, it would probably track that very closely. You know, every time they build another huge mansion, wherever they build it, that’s likely to come with a private jet user.”

He says those flight upticks have been especially noticeable since homes in the Promontory, Tuhaye, Victory Ranch and Red Ledges developments were built.

The airport only services private flights. Any private flier can land at the Heber Airport on any given day, so increased traffic there can be considered an indicator of the area’s increasing popularity for visitors.

Usually, late December is one of the airport’s busiest times, but not this year during a heavy storm.

“Because we’re Heber situated, meaning in the valley, if we have some adverse weather, meaning low clouds, then it’s very hard for airplanes, if not impossible, to get into Heber,” AbuHaidar says. “So, that basically shut off almost all the traffic. As the city was plowing over those days, it eventually compacted the snow at about a half-inch thick on the runway that eventually turned into ice, and that will stop most operators from coming in there.”

AbuHaidar says he’s used to seeing about a 25% increase in traffic in late January for the Sundance Film Festival. After the snow and ice cleared, the airport still got a big bump in flights, despite the festival canceling in-person events around Park City for the second year in a row.

On January 18, there were 58 arrivals and departures, one more than any day in 2021 or 2020. In recent weeks, the airport’s averaged about 40 flights a day, compared to averages in the high twenties to low thirties in the past two years.

“Short of some catastrophic financial crisis, I’d be surprised if it increases at the rate it has been post-COVID, but we expect to see, probably, a high-single-digits growth rate,” AbuHaidar says.

Whereas late December and January used to be the busy seasons, AbuHaidar says air traffic is becoming more consistent throughout the calendar year.

According to FlightAware, flights come from airports small and large all over the country, mostly from California, Texas, midwestern states, and some are from the East Coast.

AbuHaidar says he believes most visitors either stay in the Heber Valley or go to Park City. According to a local driving service, demand for rides from the airport has been high for years, especially to deliver people to ski resorts. Driving companies are also receiving more calls throughout the year, consistent with the increase in summer air traffic.

As air traffic has increased, AbuHaidar has received more noise complaints. He says those tend to be over planes that are smaller and older than the jets.

“I can’t remember when’s the last time I got a noise complaint for jets,” he says. “We get noise complaints for other airplanes, but these jets are very quiet, compared to other types of airplanes. Although there’s a perception that the jets are very noisy, because of the technology, they’ve gotten quite quiet.”

As more airplanes come to the valley, more of them are larger types, including jets classified as C and D, which relate to their speed capabilities.

Commercial airplanes are not allowed to use the airport. Though plans are in the works to upgrade some safety aspects, the city, which manages the airport, is not looking to add commercial capabilities.

For more data on flights using the Heber Valley Airport, visit flightaware.com.

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