The Yampa Valley Airport Commission's newly adopted mission statement makes clear that the commission thinks the Steamboat Springs Airport should remain open well into the future.
The commission is doing a study to gather data to support that decision. It plans to complete the study and present it to the public by the end of next month.
Commission member Joe McNasby is heading the study that will look at economic, social and safety issues at the airport. The study also will look at the economic benefit of keeping the Steamboat Springs Airport open versus shutting it down and turning it over to other uses.
McNasby and Airport Commission Chairman Marty Kolonel said the study is objective and errs on the side of conservative numbers.
"We don't have an agenda," Kolonel said.
The commission, formed last September,
unanimously agreed to support a two-airport model for Routt County, with the airports complementing each other rather than competing. The Yampa Valley Regional Airport is intended primarily for commercial traffic and the larger general aviation traffic, while the Steamboat Springs Airport is intended for smaller general aviation use and medical emergency flight services.
Commission members said the study will support that approach as a sound business model, but they are prepared to accept other outcomes.
"If for some reason our hypothesis is wrong, we are going to say so," Kolonel said. "But based on what we know, we believe it is going to be the other way around."
McNasby said the Airport Commission asked him to do an economic study that compared the needs of the two airports, the economic impact the Steamboat Springs Airport has on Steamboat and the ramifications if the Steamboat Airport were to close.
An objective study on the Steamboat Springs Airport is long overdue, McNasby said.
"It has never been done, and it always seems to be an issue," he said.
The Steamboat Springs Airport has critics, including members of the City Council. Questions have been raised about the safety of the airport, future costs and impacts the airport might have on the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.
Councilman Ken Brenner pointed to an economic impact study done by the Colorado Division of Aeronautics in 2003. The study showed YVRA generates almost 97 percent of the money brought in through the community's two airports.
Traffic from Yampa Valley Regional Airport generated 4,729 jobs, $73.7 million in wages and $183 million in economic activity. The Steamboat Springs Airport generated 116 jobs, $2.9 million in wages and $7.5 million in economic activity.
"The numbers we see today seem pretty convincing that perhaps consolidation does make sense," Brenner said.
Brenner also pointed to a community survey the city did in 2002, which showed that out of 19 city functions and services, residents were least satisfied with the Steamboat Springs Airport. More than 60 percent of the respondents said they were not at all satisfied with its general aviation facility.
Brenner advocates looking critically at the airport during the next budget cycle.
In the commission's mission statement, given to Routt County Commissioners and the City Council in April, one of the long-range goals is to "direct activities at both airports in a manner that complements rather than competes with each other."
Last month, the airport commission also adopted a marketing plan for both airports. In that marketing plan, the commission said it wanted the Steamboat Springs Airport to be the premier mountain destination airport for general aviation in Northwest Colorado.
"This will be accomplished by providing superior service to the locally based aircraft, local business users and general aviation visitors," the report reads.
The strategies listed in the marketing plan include direct mailings to regional pilots to promote visitation, pushing state and federal governments for funding for radar, GPS and other instrument land systems and pursuing state and federal grants for airfield maintenance such as the airport's north ramp and construction of the first phase of the south taxiway.
Kolonel said the Airport Commission's main priority is Yampa Valley Regional Airport, its terminal upgrade and improving its customer service, which visitors list as the No. 1 complaint.
"The most critical issue for the community is by far the customer service issue at (YVRA)," Kolonel said. "I do believe all this other stuff we are talking about is distracting."
With more pressing issues at YVRA, Kolonel said, now is not the time to argue whether the Steamboat Springs Airport should remain open. But if issue must be debated, Kolonel said, at least the economic study will provide sound data to make decisions.
"We hope to be arguing on fact, instead of innuendoes," Kolonel said. "If we are going to be having a debate, we should be debating fact and figures."
Kolonel and McNasby said the study will compare alternatives for the Steamboat Springs Airport and how those alternatives would impact YVRA and the city's pocketbook.
"This isn't trying to accomplish something for a few pilots. This isn't trying to accomplish something for a few land developers," McNasby said. "It is about accomplishing something for the greatest benefit of the citizens."
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