The Yampa Valley Airport Commission's decision to launch a study into economic, social and safety issues at Steamboat Springs Airport makes sense, given the political divide over the airport and its future.
What doesn't make sense is for the commission to conduct the study itself with one of its own members leading it.
For any study to have validity, particularly with airport critics, it must be conducted by an unbiased, professional organization with no ties to the airport.
The commission's stance on Steamboat Springs Airport is clear. According to a mission statement, the commission thinks the airport is an important asset that should remain open. The commission has adopted the view that Routt County essentially has one airport with two runways 20 miles apart. Steamboat Springs Airport should handle general aviation traffic, allowing Yampa Valley Regional Airport to handle commercial traffic, commission members say.
An independent study might prove those positions correct.
But for Commission Chairman Marty Kolonel to say commission members "don't have an agenda" and that the study will be objective as designed is a little disingenuous. Of course the Yampa Valley Airport Commission has an agenda, as its mission statement makes clear.
At this point, the commission's internal study on the airport is a little like a Sierra Club study on global warming or a National Rifle Association study on gun safety. No matter how proper the methodology, the results of the study will be looked upon with skepticism because of the perceived biases of the group conducting it.
We think the Airport Commission's intent is sincere. Airport Commission members appropriately have become defenders of the airport in the face of attacks by area landowners, pilots and current and former City Council members. Those critics have raised questions about the safety of flying in and out of the airport, the impact the airport has on the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan and the financial impact the airport has on the city compared to its benefits.
Airport Commission members feel strongly that the airport is safe, that it is essential for emergency services in the Yampa Valley, that it has a positive financial impact on the community and that it relieves YVRA of general aviation pressures the commercial airport is not equipped to handle.
We would not be surprised to see those stances confirmed by an independent analysis. Such a study also might convince airport critics to rethink their positions. But the study the Airport Commission is undertaking will do nothing of the sort. It will be seen as biased, its conclusions predetermined. Ultimately, it may do the commission more harm than good by damaging the group's credibility.
A thorough study of the Steamboat Springs Airport could prove beneficial to the commission and to the community at large, but only if it is conducted by an independent, impartial entity.