Steamboat Springs Airport plan could see more hangars, self-serve fuel and the possibility of a longer runway
The city is accepting public comment on the plan.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As the city develops a plan that will guide improvements to the Steamboat Springs Airport, it wants to hear from you.
While there are many elements to the upcoming Steamboat Springs Airport Master Plan, the city and consultants recently released a preferred alternative, outlining what construction could be developed at the airport.
“If there are any comments on what’s on the preferred alternative or what’s missing from the preferred alternative or if they just have an objection to an element of the preferred alternative — that’s what we want to hear at this point,” said Leah Whitfield, project manager for Dowl, the company leading development of the master plan.
Elements of the preferred alternative will eventually become part of the airport layout plan. This plan will be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and under FAA regulations, only projects listed on the layout plan can go forward, Whitfield said.
“We’ve tried to get opinions from everybody,” Steamboat’s Airport Manager Stacie Fain said. She hopes input from a variety of people impacted by airport operations will result in the “best plan possible.”
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The plan was developed with input from three open houses with the public and three meetings with an 11-person advisory board made up of stakeholders, including airport users, economic development and community organizations and neighboring businesses, Fain said.
Consultants will soon work to determine what projects rise to the highest priority, what should be built in the near and longer term, and how much these projects will cost.
Funding for projects is expected to come from a variety of sources, including federal and state grants, the city and private parties.
The proposal calls for additional hangars, specific parking areas for helicopters and the addition of self-serve fuel stations for small planes.
“One of the biggest things we struggle with at this airport is demand for hangars,” Fain said. “We have 65 based airplanes here, another 11 part-time airplanes and only 49 hangars. When you talk about our environment, with both the sun in the summer and the snow in the winter, people want their airplanes in hangars. I have 14 people on a waiting list for a hangar right now.”
That leaves several planes parked and tied down on the airport’s apron, a parking area for planes.
This plan identifies areas where hangars could be developed in the short- and long-term. Though what actually occurs will be guided by Steamboat Springs City Council, Fain said she anticipated that private operators would build additional hangars on airport-owned land. The airport would get revenue from the hangars in the form of rent payments for leases on the land beneath the new hangars.
The new layout would also see the airport’s fuel truck canopy relocated to a spot farther away from its fixed-base operations building to comply with FAA regulations. It also calls for the addition of a self-serve fuel station for small planes, which Fain said would decrease wait times for pilots who don’t mind fueling their own planes while airport staff focused on fueling larger planes.
“Oftentimes, this allows more traffic to come in, so the airport makes more money on fuel sales because pilots that are traveling through the area will check. If they see that the price is good, they’ll land and buy some fuel,” Fain said. “It gives us more revenue and the ability for pilots to fuel themselves when the staff is busy with a bunch of other planes.”
A project low on the priority list, due to its cost and the fact that it’s unlikely to garner state or federal grant funds, is an extension to the runway that would lengthen the landing strip to 5,000 feet.
“There’s a certain point at which the traffic that regularly needs to and wants to operate at this airport needs to have a little bit more length,” Fain said. “That number for charter operators that want to come in and out of here is 5,000 feet. We are at 4,452.”
Fain explained that while the total runway is at 4,452 feet, a 600-foot segment of the runway cannot be used for landing due to its proximity to dangerous terrain and incompatible land use around the airport. The previous airport master plan, finalized in 2008, called for a runway extension to 5,780 feet.
“Even at 5,000 feet, that’s a short runway for a mountain environment,” Fain said. “We’re not looking to get a great, big, long runway and great, big, long jets in here. They can go to Hayden. That’s only 20 miles away.”
Fain said the aviation industry as a whole is moving toward small jets powered by turbines, as opposed to smaller planes powered by piston engines.
These jets are also frequently used for chartered flights — planes and pilots hired to transport individuals or groups that are not part of an airline’s carrier service — which often require pilots land at a runway at least 5,000 feet long to meet requirements set by their insurance companies.
Fain said this is not about competition with the neighboring Yampa Valley Regional Airport but safety. The fact that the Yampa Valley Regional Airport’s longer runway is only 20 miles away is one of the conditions that makes the project lower priority, she said. State and federal transportation agencies that provide grants are unlikely to fund a longer runway in Steamboat so close to a longer runway in Hayden.
Whitfield explained that placing the runway extension in the plan also places a sort of a hold on the land use in the area, meaning that keeping the project on the layout plan ensures that land uses around the area will remain compatible with a longer runway if the project ever became more feasible.
The final Master Plan will include chapters that identify existing conditions and issues at the airport, FAA requirements for the facility, forecasts of future use at the airport, what should be considered as projects for the future and the cost and feasibility of these projects, according to Whitfield.
Two sections of the plan must be approved and filed with the FAA, while City Council will approve the plan as a guiding document for airport projects and operations for the future. Whitfield said it’s expected to be approved later this year or in early 2020.
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