Committee prioritizes airport improvements

About three years ago, a TWA flight headed for Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, mistakenly landed at Craig-Moffat County Airport. The airport has no control tower, and the flight's pilot wasn't on the same radio frequency as Moffat County pilots.

Had a plane been on the single-lane runway when the TWA flight landed, the results could have been catastrophic. Aside from the safety factor, local pilots say the lack of a parallel taxiway slows down air traffic when more than one plane is using the airport.

It's a situation that local airport users want to see fixed.

The Moffat County Airport Advisory Board will receive federal funds to make some needed improvements at the Craig-Moffat County Airport. The board is relying on survey data and a master plan developed by an airport consultant to prioritize improvements.

Six of nine respondents to a survey developed by Jim Sirhall of the Airport Development Group in Denver, indicated that not having a full parallel taxiway on the runway is sometimes a problem or frequently a problem.

Respondents also indicated that the amount of available hangar space at the airport is a problem.

Clay Trevenen pilots personal recreation flights out of the airport. He says an extra taxiway will speed up takeoffs. As the system currently exists, pilots must taxi down the runway and turn around before takeoff. It means that only one plane can be on the runway at a time. Trevenen said a parallel taxiway would be "just an ease."

Bruce Timberg, another recreational user of the airport, is in the dissenting minority regarding taxiway expansion. He said many airports don't have parallel runways, and it isn't a safety issue. Nor do pilots here often have to wait for other planes. Timberg said that increasing hangar space should be the airport's first priority.

Trevenen owns a six-plane hangar at the airport. Each unit is leased now, and he said two plane owners are waiting for space to open.

Gordon Farr used to give flying lessons at the airport. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the demand for flight instruction dropped, and Farr is now trying to sell his plane, which sits on the tarmac at the airport because there is no available hangar space.

All nine pilots that responded to the survey cited availability of hangar space as a problem.

"It's tough on it," Farr said, describing the effects of weather on planes. Ultraviolet rays wear on plexiglass windows, making them foggy. Paint fades, and, like a car, the plane's interior deteriorates.

Many hangars are heated, Farr said. That's almost a necessity in Northwest Colorado, because a plane can't fly with frost on its wings. Plus, it's tough on a plane's engine to start in low temperatures.

Farr dealt with the lack of a hangar by installing a heater on the engine of his plane. He warmed up the engine by firing up the heater 3 to 4 hours before he planned to start his plane.

Trevenen estimates four or five planes are currently sitting on the tarmac at the airport. He rents hangar space for $200 to $250 a month, depending on size.

About a year ago, when Timberg was thinking of buying a plane, he got proactive about hangar space, and asked the county if he could build a hangar at the airport. He received initial approval to build on a swamp, which meant hauling in tons of gravel fill. He was ready to do it, but was told he couldn't infringe on the wetlands.

At his last meeting with the Moffat County Board of Commissioners, Sirhall said wetland mitigation was on his list of priorities for airport planning.

Tom Gilchrist, Moffat County Airport Advisory Board member, said the board is planning to save money for the next three years, and then build hangars to the east of the terminal.

Sirhall could not be reached for comment. But he has recommended the Airport Advisory Board extend the runway to accommodate larger planes.

None of the survey respondents said the runway length was a problem. Timberg expressed skepticism that the Craig-Moffat County Airport could attract larger aircraft because it is so close to Yampa Valley Regional Airport. That airport already services large aircraft and is located near Steamboat Springs, the destination of many of those flights' passengers.

Sirhall has estimated that airport traffic could increase from 8,500 operations per year to 15,000 operations by the year 2022. A takeoff or landing counts as one operation.

Many of those flights are planes from local power plants and mines. Crop duster Blaine Tucker, owner of Mountain Airspray, performs about 2,000 operations at the airport per year.

Ninety-five percent of improvement costs at the airport will be funded by grants from the federal government, and five percent will be covered by loans from the state.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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