Steamboat Springs pilot Eric Smith pushes a plane into his hangar Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs Airport.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs pilot Eric Smith pushes a plane into his hangar Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs Airport.

Steamboat airport poised for new era

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If you go

What: Yampa Valley Airport Commission meeting

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Steamboat Springs Airport, Routt County Road 129

— The Yampa Valley Airport Commission will ponder future development at Steamboat Springs Airport tonight, including a potential new business plan for the city-owned facility.

Philo Shelton, director of public works for the city of Steamboat Springs, said this week that he intends to recommend a choice of consultants to help create the business plan. It would be based upon the FAA-mandated update for the airport master plan adopted in April.

The master plan by Armstrong Consultants suggested a number of steps Steamboat Springs officials could take to make the airport more financially independent. They include adding more hangars in the existing parking lot and building a 600-foot runway expansion. Lengthening the runway by that margin would not allow more and bigger aircraft to fly into Steamboat, Shelton said, but it would allow aircraft already using the airport to take off with full fuel tanks. That, in turn, would increase profits from the airport's sale of aviation fuel.

Shelton said Steamboat Springs City Council needs to have a discussion about whether the city should continue its role as the airport's fixed base operator, which provides services to general aviation aircraft owners. Many small airports contract with a private business to provide those services.

"It's a big philosophical question we have to resolve," Shelton said. "The city has a history of doing both over the years."

Commission Chairman Mike Forney agreed with Shelton. "Privatizing the airport (management) might be one of the ideas to explore," Forney said.

The outlook for Steamboat's airport shifted in April, when City Council formally endorsed keeping the general aviation facility in service. Development at the airport has been tentative for years. That is because some community leaders have advocated that the city get out from under the expense of operating the airport by closing it and shifting private aircraft to the larger, county-owned Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.

The Federal Aviation Administration may have uttered the final words in that lengthy debate in April, when it announced it would cost the city between $6.7 million and $9.5 million to rid itself of obligations related to federal grants already invested in the Steamboat airport.

Forney said that since City Council's expression of support for the airport, manager Mel Baker has fielded numerous contacts from developers interested in building new hangars at the airport off Routt County Road 129.

"With 115 airplanes based there now, there are probably owners of King Air's and small business jets who would like to have a hangar in order to use their planes to full capacity," Forney said.

Shelton said his goal for the airport's business plan is to charter a course that will project revenues and expenses needed to make the airport essentially revenue-neutral, then allow it gradually to build up capital reserves.

The two finalists for the consulting job are Aviation Management Consulting Group, of Centennial, and Airport Business Solutions, of Tampa, Fla.

Another potential change at the airport, Forney said, is that the city might consider building a smaller general aviation terminal so that SmartWool clothing company could act on its desire to expand into the balance of the existing terminal. The terminal was built to host commercial aviation and is larger than necessary for general aviation. SmartWool has been a long-term tenant in a portion of the terminal and steadily has been adding employees since being acquired by Timberland in December 2005. SmartWool's current lease with the city is worth more than $175,000 annually.

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