Stick another feather in the cap for the Rifle-Garfield County Airport, which is working with a British defense contractor to run test flights for its Puma helicopter this summer.
Garfield County commissioners this week signed a contract with QinetiQ, a military contractor for the United Kingdom Defense Ministry, to conduct tests for about eight weeks.
According to Airport Director Brian Condie, the London-based aviation company was looking for a high-altitude airport to test the Puma helicopter, which is to be used by the Royal Air Force.
The Rifle facility was one of three in Colorado that it considered, and was ultimately selected as the preferred location pending final agreements with the county, Condie informed county commissioners at their April 20 meeting.
QinetiQ is expected to arrive with 20 employees for up to eight weeks of testing at the Rifle airport sometime during the summer. The company is arranging with a local hotel for accommodations, he said.
The latest news comes on the heels of the recent decision by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control decision to establish its new Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting at the Rifle airport.
“This is the reason we went to the effort to upgrade the airport, was to attract these kinds of things,” Condie said.
County commissioners were thrilled with the prospect of having another high-profile operator at the county-owned airport, even temporarily, and the exposure that will bring.
“This is another big boom for our airport,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “They could have gone just about anywhere in the world, and they chose Garfield County.”
Not only will there be a local economic benefit, the airport will benefit from fuel sales, noted Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.
The contract does require the airport to set up a $10,000 emergency contingency fund and to provide three FAA-certified aircraft firefighters who must be on hand at all times during the testing.
That will occur six days a week during their time at the airport, although availability is to be provided seven days a week, Condie said.
QinetiQ is to pay overtime for the firefighters and double time on any weekends or holidays worked, he said.
“These people have to be ready to go in a moment’s notice should anything happen,” Condie said.
The contract also covers liability issues for both the airport and the company that will be doing the aircraft testing, he said.
Another exciting aspect of the visit is the planned method to bring the helicopter to Colorado, which would entail using a large C-17 military transport plane.
That plane could potentially land at the Rifle airport, although QinetiQ is exploring costs to fly the transport plane into other Colorado airports and bringing the helicopter to Rifle via ground transport, Condie explained.
If the plane were to land at Rifle, it would require having three firefighting apparatus and 10 personnel on hand during that operation, at a cost of up to $60,000, he said.
QinetiQ is expected to announce details of its plans once the contract is finalized, he said.