Fuel sales spike at Steamboat airport thanks to active wildfire season | SteamboatToday.com

Fuel sales spike at Steamboat airport thanks to active wildfire season

Jacob Tucker, a member of the ground crew, mans his post as a CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off from Steamboat Springs Airport. (File photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The large wildfires that broke out in the Routt National Forest this summer cost an estimated $36 million to fight, and Steamboat Springs city coffers have seen some of that money.

Steamboat Springs Airport, which is owned by the city, had a significant boost in fuel sales thanks to numerous firefighting helicopters that have used the airport over the summer.

"Although we don't want to see the fires or the helicopters in our region, if there are fires in the region, there will be a financial benefit to an airport," Airport Manager Stacie Fain said.

The airport had record fuel sales for the month of July, selling 10,132 gallons of Jet A fuel. Fain said it was the highest number of gallons of Jet A sold at the airport since the airport began keeping records in 1997.

Fuel sales are the airport's primary source of revenue.

"That goes for about every airport out there," Fain said.

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Fuel sales could help the airport operate in the black this year. Fain said the airport is typically subsidized with city tax dollars to the tune of $90,000.

Fain budgeted for $325,000 in fuel revenue at the airport for 2018. She expects to exceed that, but she did not want to speculate by how much.

The fuel business started booming after the Silver Creek Fire was discovered July 19. Helicopters were brought in quickly to drop water on hot spots and to conduct reconnaissance missions.

Fuels sales at the airport were up 31.4 percent in July compared to July 2017. It was the fifth highest fuel sales for a single month going back to 1997.

Fuel sales were then up 13 percent in August and another 13 percent in September.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager Kevin Booth said they had a minimal amount of traffic for wildfire helicopters and therefore not a significant increase in fuel sales.

"We're just trying to do our civic duty and give them a place to land," Booth said.

Since June 12, the Steamboat airport has hosted 12 different helicopters. The airport also charges a parking fee.

"Even with the financial benefits, it is a challenge to host helicopters, especially the large ones, as they take a lot of space and create a lot of debris that can be a safety issue and inconvenience for the other aircraft," Fain said. "We had to be very careful with integrating them into our operations. We were able to do this safely and made each helicopter crew feel welcome at Steamboat Springs Airport."

Fuel sales were not the only economic impact. The crews also spent money in the community.

Crews from the Black Hills in South Dakota were pre-positioned at the airport for more than 90 days, ready to respond to any fires.

The economic trickle down from them and others was felt in the community.

"They tried to stay in hotels as much as possible," Fain said. "The ate in our restaurants. They were pretty much members of our community for more than 90 days."

Fain said the airport has proven itself to be important asset in the community.

"Particularly for these types of responses," Fain said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

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