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Lake Co. has high hopes for highest airport in N. America

Robert Allen
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – Lake County officials aim for North America’s highest airport in Leadville to begin offering more service to Summit County traffic.

“If any of your businesses in Summit County are thinking about air service, we’re there,” airport manager Zachary Colescott said at a work session with Summit County commissioners.

The airport has undergone about $4 million worth of improvements in recent years with funding from Lake County, the state and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The county has owned the airport since it was created in 1961. It was under private management until Jan. 1, 2009, when the county took control.

“Lake County sunk quite a bit of its own money into the airport as far as facilities, equipment, refueling trucks…,” Colescott said. “From the pictures I’ve seen, it’s 500 percent the airport that it was a year ago.”

At 9,927 feet, the airport is the third highest in the world, he said.

Improvements in recent years include a GPS approach procedure allowing safer landings. Services include 24 hour-per-day fueling, hangar space, courtesy transportation and more.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Bordogna said that while the military has “always been a stalwart” for airport traffic, the county is trying to get more commercial flights.

Representatives of Powdr Corp. – the company that recently purchased Copper Mountain – flew in to Leadville at least 10 times in 2009, Colescott said.

He said that corporate traffic had been “a little apprehensive” because of the hangar facilities in winter. Recent improvements are expected to make the airport more attractive.

The airport had some commercial service related to the mining industry in the 1970s, but that’s dwindled in the past couple decades.

The airport is popular for military testing and training operations, accommodating C-130 cargo planes and even the tiltrotor MV-22B Osprey – which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a turboprop aircraft.

Colescott said the largest nonmilitary aircraft flying in to Leadville tend to be

10- to 15-passenger planes.

Lately, an average of about 100 people per month have traveled through the airport into the city of Leadville to spend “a lot of money,” he said.

The elevation makes take-offs and landings more difficult because of the thin air, and “many aircraft are operating above their manufacturer’s recommended specifications when flying in to and out of Leadville,” according to the airport website at http://www.lxvairport.com.

The world’s highest airport is Bamda Airport in Tibet at 14,219 feet, although the Chinese government has plans to build another in the Nagqu area of Tibet at 14,639 feet, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.


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