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Airport soars with economic boom
October 5, 2011
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  • By: Debbie Bell, Fremont County Commissioner
    October 1, 2011

    Even while much of the community focuses its attention on the future of economic development, one local gem continues to shine brightly as it brings in unheralded success — the Fremont County Airport.
    Already well known for providing safe and efficient aeronautical services and facilities, the county-owned airport is gaining an impressive reputation as a firefighting base, as well as the perfect home for high-altitude helicopter testing.

    In fact, so far in 2011, the Fremont County Airport has brought an estimated $818,000 to the local economy in just firefighting base and helicopter testing programs!

    The airport serves as a firefighting and smokejumper base for the entire Southeastern Colorado region. Four single-engine air tankers, 11 helicopters, two smokejumper aircraft and one aerial supervision aircraft were based at the airport during the fire season. Firefighter operations opened for the year in late April with the Sand Gulch Fire in the San Isabel National Forest near Wetmore and officially ended with the Beaver Creek Fire northwest of the Air Force Academy.

    Although the Duckett Fire, which crossed the Custer County line into Fremont County, was the largest and most expensive wildfire to battle this year, the local airport hosted operations to fight a total of 21 fires throughout the summer.

    In addition to its work as a host to firefighting operations, the airport also is garnering a worldwide reputation as an ideal place for high-altitude helicopter testing.

    Earlier this summer, a Great Britain-based company spent a couple of weeks here taking advantage of the combination of high altitude and dry weather offered by the area. AgustaWestland brought in 24 people to test its latest Lynx Wildcat helicopter in August.

    Currently, European-based Eurocopter is testing its German-built EC 145-T2 helicopter, which is the latest model of an existing copter now in use by the U.S. Army. Eurocopter has eight employees here for about a month of testing.

    In addition to charges and fees at the Fremont County Airport during these tests, the companies also pour revenues into the local economy through hotel stays, restaurant charges, entertainment expenses, fire protection fees, heavy equipment rental and more. Airport Manager Richard Baker said the entire county benefits from the testing programs.

    In addition to these special programs, the airport continues to offer its daily services in commercial, corporate, private and military aviation.

    The Fremont County Commissioners recognize the vital role the airport plays in the local economy. Several community businesses already utilize the airport in their day-to-day operations, and other national retailers have expressed an interest in locating here if the airport could handle their specific needs.

    The county believes continued growth and expansion at the airport, both in size and services offered, is vital to the future economic well-being of the entire county. A new or expanded runway is necessary to allow bigger and heavier aircraft to land and take off.

    To continue on the path toward a greater future, the commissioners recently approved a Master Plan Update Scope of Services for the Fremont County Airport with Armstrong Consultants of Grand Junction. The project will open an important dialogue with the community, seeking input from citizens on exactly what they want from their airport. The county will schedule community meetings to solicit vital public input. The entire process is exciting and could lead the county to untold revenues in the future. Stay tuned.

    Debbie Bell is the Fremont County District 2 Commissioner.

    Date: 2011-10-01