Plan outlines possible future of county airport

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Ideas are flying around lately over the future of the Craig/Moffat County Airport.

According to the developer of the long-range vision, the local airport "has a lot of potential."

"We've got a community that uses it and needs it," said Jim Sirhall of Airport Development Group (ADG), a company in charge of compiling data for the plan. "There are a lot of things that can be done to bring up its viability."

Included in the plan are suggestions for a longer runway able to accept larger plans, more lighting, added runway taxi space and updated lounge facilities. Another goal includes mapping plots for future hanger construction and determining mitigation for the surrounding wetlands.

The plan's $121,330 price tag is split three ways between federal, state and county dollars. Federal money picks up the 90 percent lion's share of the tab. The state and Moffat County are expected to evenly split the remaining 10 percent.

Because many airport improvements are required by the Federal Aviation Administration, costs are kept to a minimum, said motor grader supervisor and airport tender Jack Kelly.

And the airport already has seen some changes.

Recently, the FAA provided the airport with a covered "state-of-the-art electrical box," Kelly said.

"The (FAA official) wouldn't even go near our old one," Kelly said, relaying it's dangerous nature.

The airport's electrical box has 5,000 watts of electricity and users sometimes had to stand on wet ground to access it. Needless to say, a new facility was approved onsite, Kelly said.

Runway lighting has been increased and a new beacon will soon be installed to replace an antiquated version.

Currently the airport's runway is 5,600 ft. That's longer than the 4,452-foot runway at Steamboat Spring's Bob Adam's Airport, but shorter than the 10,000-foot runway at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.

By extending the runway at the Craig/Moffat County Airport 1,295 feet, planners hope to attract larger airplanes, thereby selling more fuel and, theoretically, increasing the numbers of visitors and dollars into the local economy.

"You should look at this like a business," Sirhall told county commissioners at Monday's meeting. "There's a lot of room to implement growth and to help make it better in the future."

According to informal operations figures for the airport, arrivals and departures have taken a dramatic dip since 1985. In the mid-80s, 20,000 operations were recorded, dwarfing last year's 2,268 recorded operations.

One operation includes either landing or taking off. Two operations are charted for an airplane that does both from the same airport.

Based aircraft at the airport also have decreased since 1985 -- from 25 to 17, according to figures from ADG.

A lack of onsite amenities may play a part in the drop off of planes landing at the local airport.

Currently, a modest-sized building houses the pilot's lounge furnished with a couch and two chairs. Flight magazines lay on a coffee table and a few maps line the walls. Inside the same building, weather-relaying equipment shares space with a county office and rented space for a flying program.

Updating the lounge area and offering some food options might encourage pilots and others to visit the airport, said Sirhall.

"The Eagle airport was similar to the Craig airport ten or 15 years ago," he said. "Now they have a 9,000-foot runway and Boeing 757s land down there. I'm not saying that Craig can do that because you have the Hayden Airport down the road, but (Eagle) didn't see the vision until someone showed it to them."

With each new operation improvement, Kelly sees a more efficient airport. Maintenance issues that used to drain much of his time, are now all almost self- regulated. Of course, part of the job is making sure it's safe for planes to land, even if that mean shooing deer and foxes away.

In general, Kelly planned to spend the saved time working on other projects in his primary duties with the Moffat County Road Department.

"I get so tickled with what we have now," he said. "If a light breaks it's so easy to repair. Before, you had to go at it with a pick and shovel."

"Every now and then it needs a little TLC but it can survive by itself out there," he said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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