Our View: Replace unrealistic airport plans

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If the 10-year Forecast Update for the Steamboat Springs Airport is an unrealistic plan, then the city should offer one that is.

The forecast update is an 18-page master plan for the airport that was written by airport manager Matt Grow and presented to the city last fall. The forecast includes a six-year capital improvement plan that contemplates millions of dollars in improvements at the airport by 2010. The biggest are $4 million to construct a parallel taxiway and $2 million to extend the airport runway.

We think the city should continue to ensure the safe operation and maintenance of its general aviation airport. But before spending millions to expand that airport, the city should first look to see if those dollars wouldn't be better spent at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, the commercial facility that serves most of the city's residents and visitors.

By its words, the city may very well agree with that sentiment. The forecast update for the Steamboat Springs Airport was written a little more than five months ago, but Grow and other city officials now say that the runway expansion and other improvements likely will never happen, though they have no immediate plans to change the update.

City Manager Paul Hughes said, "I think when the city made the decision to give up commercial planes and stay with general aviation, it also decided the current runways were sufficient for the planes that want to fly in here."

Hughes' statement makes sense. Without commercial traffic, the Steamboat airport serves relatively few residents, businesses and visitors. It seems foolish to invest millions of dollars to extend the runway and build a parallel taxiway when there is a commercial airport 20 miles to the west that desperately needs those funds.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport is critical to our economy. While few residents, visitors and businesses will ever use the Steamboat airport, most will fly into or out of YVRA at some point.

Major improvements at YVRA, including a $765,000 addition that is the first part of a three-phase terminal expansion, began last year. That work is just the start of what is needed.

YVRA remains a marginal experience for arriving and departing guests. The terminal is crowded, and there is little room for passengers waiting to move from the ticketing area through the screening process. The unpaved parking area and assortment of concrete barriers are a confusing mess. The facility is simply unattractive and uninviting.

In the future, there may well be a time when improving the Steamboat airport's general aviation capabilities makes sense, but not until YVRA -- Steamboat's hub and, for many, its gateway -- has been brought up to par. We would encourage the city to adopt an airport master plan that reflects such a philosophy to replace a plan that the city's leadership admits is unrealistic.

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