Radar funding for airport increases

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— Local officials are closing in on the $250,000 they hope will bring new electronic airplane surveillance equipment to several regional airports.

The Steamboat Springs City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to give $50,000 for the project, which is expected to allow more airplanes to land faster and be diverted less often at airports such as Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.

The cost to install the equipment at airports in Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Craig and Rifle is $11.9 million. The Federal Aviation Administration will pay $5.1 million, and the state aeronautics division will provide $6.3 million, leaving $500,000 to local governments.

Routt County officials hope to secure half of that $500,000 with an energy impact grant. With Steamboat Springs' $50,000 contribution, only $45,000 needs to be raised.

Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said the city of Craig and Moffat County have committed to giving money to the project, but neither has specified how much it will provide.

According to the county, the benefits of the project include:

Enhanced safety: The new radar system will be able to detect aircraft that are currently outside of coverage.

Improved efficiency: The system will increase arrival and departure efficiency for the mountain airports and Denver International Airport.

Transportation benefits: Traffic will be reduced on highways, and fewer flights will be diverted.

Economic benefits: Moun--tain airports lose revenue because flights are diverted, county officials said. Because improved surveillance will increase flight efficiency, less fuel will be burned and airports will accommodate more travelers. David Ruppel, manager of Yampa Valley Regional Airport, estimated that $132 million in fuel would be saved during a 15-year period.

The regional project is part of a larger state effort to improve mountain airports. The project will bring new surveillance equipment to airports across the Western Slope within three years, if funding is approved.

Sullivan said Colorado would be the first state in the continental United States to install the equipment. He said the technology would allow planes at Yampa Valley Regional Airport to land in bad weather. Currently, aircraft must remain several thousand feet above the ground during bad weather because air traffic controllers cannot see them.

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