My history in Boulder has been entwined with the Boulder Municipal Airport.
In 2008 I established a foundation at Kansas State University’s flight school to give aspiring pilots financial assistance in their aviation education. Those students encouraged me to fly again, and I bought a small plane and based it at the Boulder airport for business and nonprofit flights. Over time, my plane was used to train future pilots in Denver airspace operations and mountain flying.
In addition to my business flights, I joined Pilots N Paws and evacuated many rescue dogs from states east of Colorado to the dog-friendly skies of the Front Range. My favorite was a fight-trained pit bull named Amelia. She was rescued from certain death in Arkansas and became a service animal for a local resident after I flew her to Boulder.
The Boulder airport community includes local scientists, entrepreneurs, students, small business owners, engineers, mechanics, service personnel and aviators, and all are willing to help each other and improve the airport for all users.
Our airport is home to several aviation-based climate organizations, including Scientific Aviation and the National Ecological Observatory Network, which provides critical global climate assessments and research.
More importantly to our local community, the Boulder Airport plays a major role in local emergencies and disaster recovery, particularly for fires and floods. The airport served as the primary flood recovery center during the 2013 flood, with the Army Corps of Engineers mounting an airlift operation second only in scope to the rescue operation for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
During many of our recent wildfires, the airport has also served as a command center and water and refueling station for the planes and helicopters fighting the fires. In addition, the Boulder Community Hospital emergency helicopter is serviced and fueled at our local airport.
Boulder Fire Chief Michael Calderazzo has described the importance of our local airport: “We used it extensively during the floods for evacuating county residents to safety, but also as a command post. It provided a perfect location for command and control as well as a spot to jump in a helicopter and get an overview of damage for our incident command team for crucial planning purposes.”
A recent effort by a member of the Boulder City Council has caused Boulder city staff to research the possibility of closing the Boulder airport. The thought is that the 179-acre airport could be turned into affordable housing, free and clear. However, the FAA, having made substantial investments in our local airport over the past 20 years, will need to be reimbursed for all of their funding — estimated to be more than $100 million — hardly free and clear.
Given our experience with fire and flood emergencies in the recent past and knowing that Boulder now has the highest flood risk of any Colorado city, I doubt that any of us will question the value of our local airport.
But, if so, consider that the Boulder Municipal Airport is an economic engine for the Boulder area, providing 259 jobs and an annual business impact of $50.6 million.
The Boulder airport also provides pilot training and recreational opportunities. The Soaring Society of Boulder is one of the top three soaring clubs in the world. Boulder’s location near the foothills minimizes the distance that tow planes must fly to get to the mountains, where soaring is often the best.
Clemens Ceipek, president of the Soaring Society, calls the Boulder airport a trailhead to the infinite open space in the skies.
My friend Doree Hickman booked her 78th birthday trip with Mile High Gliders for a thrilling glider ride above Boulder. Isn’t this an example of the “quirky” Boulder we all love?
The Boulder nonprofit chapter of the Experimental Aviation Association has flown 230 Boulder County kids on free Young Eagle flights out of the Boulder airport in the past three years, giving them a chance at flight. Boulder airport companies are also leading the efforts for key aviation innovations such as the use of electric airplanes and unleaded gasoline.
The public has been fascinated with aviation since the early days of our nation. The federal airway system is a transportation network that most of us count on in our lives. Let’s all recognize the importance of the Boulder airport to our community and encourage our City Council to protect and support it.
Jan Burton is a former member of the Boulder City Council. Email: Jan.firstname.lastname@example.org.