The Steamboat Springs Airport is in line for $2.1 million in federal funding for improving its landing equipment.
Part of a transportation bill passing through the U.S. Congress, the funding is earmarked for a transponder landing system, which will allow planes to fly in at lower cloud cover when landing at the Steamboat Springs Airport. The funding will go to the feasibility study, acquisition, installation and maintenance of a TLS.
The money, if approved, would come with no match from the city, but after the first couple of years, the city could be required to take over the $15,000 to $20,000 annual maintenance costs.
The TLS would allow planes to land at the airport during bad weather by lowering cloud cover requirements, said Steamboat Springs Airport Manager Matt Grow.
The airport has two approaches for bad weather, a VOR and GPS approach. With the VOR approach, clouds have to be at least 1,200 feet above the ground. The GPS approach requires the cloud ceiling to be 940 feet or higher.
The lowest approach allowed under a TLS is with a 200-foot cloud ceiling and a half-mile visibility in challenging terrain, but Grow said that could change when Steamboat's altitude and terrain are factored into the system.
Unlike an instrument landing system such as the one in Hayden, a TLS can be used in mountainous terrain with little land. And Grow said that pilots who wish to use a TLS are not required to buy new equipment. All that is required is a check ride with the Federal Aviation Administration.
"I am 99 percent positive it is better than what we have now," Grow said.
According to the Advanced Navigator and Positioning Corporation, which manufactures the system: "The TLS utilizes state-of-the art technology to calculate and track aircraft positions in space from signals emitted by the aircraft's existing radar transponder and provide guidance indications to the ILS avionics in the cockpit."
Grow said they have had documentation of the increasing need for a TLS since 1995 and that he wrote letters to state senators and representatives about that need.
Grow wouldn't say that a TLS would have prevented any of the nine crashes involving planes flying in or out of the airport in the past 10 years.
He said it would not have made a difference in a May 2001 crash where a FedEx pilot died when his plane slammed into a ridge on the south side of Emerald Mountain. The Cessna 208B crashed about 1.5 miles from the navigational tower on Emerald Mountain and was heading into the Steamboat Springs Airport.
Grow said that crash largely was attributed to pilot error.
"It would be speculative to say that it would have (saved lives)," Grow said. "It will increase safety at the airport as another means or option to choose as an approach into the airport."
While the TLS will not compete with Hayden, Grow said, it could bring more flights into the airport. He said the landing system would increase the airport's standing against other airports such as Telluride, Aspen or Sun Valley.
"It will increase our revenue and tourism into the airport with a TLS," Grow said.
The installation will take 18 months. January 2006 is targeted as the completion date, Grow said.