By Kristen Leigh Painter
Front Range Airport near Watkins. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)Front Range Airport’s tower could close on April 7 due to sequestration cuts.
The administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Michael Huerta, and the agency’s chief operating officer, David Grizzle, sent an open letter March 5 to 189 small airports nationwide stating that 176 of them would stop receiving funding in early April.
All of the threatened airports are part of the FAA’s Contract Tower Program — or FCT — which provides funds to hire private contractors.
Each airport had until March 13 to submit a letter, making a case for why it should be spared the budgetary axe.
“The Front Range Airport is serviced with a contract tower, which means that the controllers in the tower are not federal FAA employees,” said David Gordon, director of the Colorado Division of Aeronautics. “Instead, they are private contract air traffic controllers.”
Front Range in Adams County is the only small airport in the state to be a part of the FCT. The airport does not meet the requirements of either having more than 150,000 total operations a year or more than 10,000 commercial operations a year.
Dennis Heap, the executive director at Front Range, submitted a letter to Grizzle, arguing that closing the airport’s tower would have an adverse affect in four ways — national security, economic impact to the Denver metro area and beyond, multi-state transportation and its critical function as a diversionary airport to Denver International Airport.
“We are talking about cutting infrastructure. And the American public, Adams County and Colorado residents have already funded that — the infrastructure is already there,” Heap said.
One of Front Range’s major arguments is its close proximity — just six miles — to the nation’s fifth busiest airport, DIA.
“That’s probably about as close as you can get a reliever airport to a commercial airport,” Heap said. “The business jets and propeller airplanes that will come into Front Range Airport, we shuttle those customers over to DIA.”
One of the main economic reasons Heap mentioned in his pleading letter to Grizzle was the locally-supported efforts to create Spaceport Colorado, which would be located at the airport.
Front Range Airport and several other economic and state entities have come together to raise the money and are in the process of creating its application for the FAA spaceport license.
“It is anticipated that a license for horizontal takeoff and recovery will be issued no later than 1st quarter 2014,” Heap wrote in the letter. “Spaceport Colorado with full support of the Governor of Colorado, Mayors of Denver and Aurora, the Colorado delegation and aerospace community is positioned to become America’s Hub for space transportation, research & development.”
Heap acknowledges that the airport could work to reduce its $600,000 annual operating budget for the tower and try to raise the money through other avenues, but he worries there is not enough time.
Front Range employs 19 people, which would likely be reduced to nine if it loses funding.
There are five air-traffic controllers, two maintenance and cleaning workers and possibly another three employees who would lose their jobs due to a predicted drop in jet traffic.