Garfield County airport to shut down April 5 through Nov. 18 | AspenTimes.com
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Garfield County airport to shut down April 5 through Nov. 18

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. – Regular users of the Garfield County Regional Airport in Rifle are in for an unusual spring, summer and fall, as the airport will be closed to airplane traffic from April 5 through Nov. 18 for some major improvements.

The project includes a realigned runway and new runway lighting, some new parking space for larger and smaller planes, new instrument landing equipment and other safety improvements.

According to Airport Director Brian Condie, the only aircraft that will be able to land at the facility during the closure months will be helicopters doing fire and rescue work, or helicopters belonging to a charter service that operates out of the airport, because they don’t need a runway.

All this work is scheduled to cost more than $33 million, most of which is being covered by federal grants.

Condie said the facility, located on a mesa above Interstate 70, is what is known as an “uncontrolled airport,” meaning there is no tower. Approaching aircraft must send out a radio call, on a certain frequency, when they get to within 10 miles of the airport to let other aircraft know they’re coming in.

“It’s what they call a ‘see and avoid’ policy,” Condie explained. He said the facility boasts a 7,000-foot runway that can accommodate a variety of aircraft sizes, up to a 737.

The airport handles roughly 20,000 operations every year, he said, explaining that means about 10,000 take-offs and 10,000 landings. He said the threshold for getting the FAA to put in a flight control tower is about 100,000 operations per year, so “we’ve got a long ways to go.”

And while the airport handles weather-related overflow flights from nearby mountain airports, including commercial flights, it is not likely to be designated a commercial airport, Condie said. That is because it is too close to three existing commercial facilities – Grand Junction, Aspen and Eagle.

The airlines typically don’t want commercial landing facilities any closer than a three-hour drive from each other, Condie explained. And the Garfield County airport is roughly an hour and a half from any one of the three nearby airports.

One important upgrade, Condie said, is a new instrument landing system that will make it safer for planes to land in bad weather.

Currently, the airport can safely handle one plane every 15 minutes in bad weather and low visibility. With the new gear, he said, that will be improved to one plane every six minutes, “with the same safety level.”

Once the improvements are finished, Condie said the runway will more closely parallel I-70, so the planes will not be cruising over Rifle as they take off.

“That’s one bit of good news,” he said.

But because of the new orientation of the runway, its approach lights will be more visible to homes in certain parts of Silt, he added.

Condie noted that most of the locals who park planes at the airport have either signed up for low-cost, long-range parking for the closure period, or moved their planes to other airports.

But there are two, he said – a Cessna 172 and an experimental Dragonfly – that are not paid up and may be declared abandoned.

If that happens, he said “on April 5 they’ll be gone,” hauled off to the dump.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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