Board pitches airport to Summit officials |

Board pitches airport to Summit officials

Frank Schiro

The Airport Advisory Board is working on a master plan that will be presented to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plan will include recommendations for the future expansion and modifications of the airport. Summit County’s interest could have a major impact on the direction of those recommendations.

Currently the airport has a 6,400-foot runway. This is long enough to handle general aviation traffic and most small business-size jets. However, in order for the airport to support commercial airplanes the runway would have to be lengthened to 11,000 feet.

This extension would be possible by filling in a small valley and connecting to a hill to the south of where the present runway ends. According to estimates, it would take approximately 14 to 15 million cubic yards of fill dirt to accomplish the extension.

Accomplishing the types of changes required would take both political and monetary support. Summit County could be a natural source for both.

“Transportation is one of our (Summit County’s) issues. The airport in Leadville is another way to get to Summit County,” Summit County commissioner Bill Wallace said.

Sirhall pointed out that 30 percent of resort visitors travel by air. He also explained that traffic volumes through the Interstate-70 corridor are expected to increase by 94 percent over the next 20 years, growing from 26,000 average annual daily traffic to around 50,000.

The Airport Board also pointed out that it may take a visitor flying into Denver International Airport three to four hours to make it to the Summit Area, even more in bad weather.

“We could have people up on the ski slopes in Summit in one and a half to two hours,” said Charlie O’Leary, Lake County Commissioner.

Summit County accounts for around four million skier days per year, getting those skiers to the slopes quicker makes a big difference to dollars coming in. An airport in Leadville handling commercial craft could also increase the total number of skiers visiting Summit County.

Commissioner Wallace stated that Summit officials have discussed the need for revenue sharing and supporting Lake County as a bedroom community. Supporting the airport expansion could be one way to provide revenue sharing.

Generally there was other cautious support from the Summit attendees.

Jim Spenst, the director of mountain operations at Copper Mountain commented that the airport would have to be able to run large volumes of travelers through it. The airport would also have to be able to offer direct flights to and from major cities for it to be attractive to the ski areas.

Lou Del Piccolo, mayor of Silverthorne, questioned the interest of airlines. An important factor for regional airport success is having guaranteed seats.

In principle, Summit attendees committed to giving general and political support for making the airport capable of handling commercial aircraft.

Summit commissioners recommended actions for the advisory board to pursue and committed to actions on their part.

For their part they would poll their membership to get feedback about airport interest. They would also attend an upcoming public meeting to voice their support to the FAA and Colorado Department of Transportation for the airport expansion.

Summit officials suggested the airport advisory board contact the ski areas directly to determine their level of interest and support. They also suggested further examination of various airline’s interest about flying into Leadville.

In upcoming weeks, the Airport Advisory Board will hold a public meeting to get input from Lake County citizens. They will then continue the process of developing the master plan. Timing is important. It is in the middle of a funding cycle with the FAA. If this opportunity is missed, it could take another seven years before the topic could be reconsidered with a chance of resolution withing the allotted time frame.

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