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Home arrow News arrow Gunnison County looking at ways to mitigate future airport closures
Gunnison County looking at ways to mitigate future airport closures Print
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 09 January 2013
De-icing, better communication top the list

As a result of the recent Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport closures around Christmas, changes will be coming not only to this airport but also to other resort airports like Aspen and Steamboat. Those airports will now have to adhere to the same regulations and standards as Gunnison. As for the local airport, look for better communication between the airport administration and affected businesses like the ski resort, and the county will explore various options to keep the runways more clear.

 

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The Gunnison County Commissioners held a meeting to review the closures on Tuesday, January 8. During the meeting, airport manager John DeVore told the commissioners that he was working under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations concerning braking action on the runways. When braking measurements hit a certain threshold, the FAA inspector for the local airport mandated that the airport not allow planes to land. That policy went into effect about three years ago in an effort to make sure planes didn’t run off the runways. Those thresholds were what caused the airport closures in December.
But similar resort airports with similar weather conditions remained open while the Gunnison airport closed up shop December 26 and 27. DeVore said local resident David Leinsdorf called around to see why Aspen was allowed to be open and Gunnison had to close. DeVore concluded that different FAA inspectors had different rules for the different airports.
“I told the FAA I would revert to the old standards since Aspen and Steamboat were doing that. I wanted a level playing field,” DeVore told the commissioners. “I found out that saying that results in a pretty quick phone call from the FAA. They assured me that they would make sure the same rules are followed at all the airports. That won’t make Aspen and Steamboat very happy.”
DeVore said he called to thank Leinsdorf for investigating the situation at other airports and finding a glitch in the system.
Since the rule changed three years ago, airport closures are infrequent in Gunnison. But the recent ones came during two of the busiest days of the winter ski season.
“I think I speak for not just the ski area but a lot of local businesses in the valley,” said Crested Butte Mountain Resort general manager Ethan Mueller.
“We understand the situation but this was serious. The airport is the gateway to the valley and this circumstance was very unfortunate. A lot of dollars were lost in the valley as a result—tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars and a cumulative impact of maybe close to a million dollars. Even more than that, we heard from a lot of people that they won’t even try to come back here in the future since it is so hard to get here. We heard people say it was ridiculous, a pain in the butt. That is frustrating to us.” Mueller continued.
“There is no magic bullet to prevent this,” said DeVore. “Anti-icing products could minimize the experience. It’s usually early or late in the season when we have this situation with the runways because of sun and temperatures. De-icing or anti-icing could be a help.”
“Using de-icing procedures will take some expense that’s not in the budget,” added county public works director Marlene Crosby. “Durango said they de-iced once this year and it cost them about $1,500. We would also have to conduct a stormwater drainage study.”
“To me, one big thing is the communication piece,” said Paula Swenson, the new chairman of the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners. “We need better communication. It takes the rumors out of play. It gives the businesses depending on the airport the opportunity to do damage control ahead of time with their customers. If we can get a good communication plan in place ahead of time, everyone can understand what’s really going on.”
“This incident showed some of the deficits we have,” added Commissioner Phil Chamberland. “The de-icing is something we should look at.”
“Realistically because we have to look at a stormwater plan, it probably won’t happen this year,” said Crosby.
DeVore said his staff would try some other clearing configurations that might make the runways easier to keep clear. “I have some ideas with grooming in a different orientation that might take a bit longer but if it works, it will be worth the effort,” he said.
“We live in a world with no tolerance for any airline incidents,” continued DeVore. “The planes can’t go off the runways. Our competitors now have to apply the same standards that we do.”
“We appreciate hearing that the county is looking at doing it better,” said Mueller. “De-icing is a good alternative and it’s really not very expensive. We’d appreciate doing it as quickly as you can.
“And this leads to a larger discussion,” continued Mueller. “What are we doing as a valley? How do we move forward and get better? How do we improve things? This was a bit of a reality check for all of us, including the ski resort. We can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. We all need to do better.”
Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center executive director Woody Sherwood seconded that idea. “In our fundraising efforts we hear quite a bit how hard it is for people to get here,” he said. “We had a fundraising event scheduled for December 27 but the musicians got stuck in Dallas and were eventually sent back to Nashville. It really hurt to have a scheduled fundraiser and not be able to get the performers here. I agree that the communication plan improvements are important. We should always be looking to stay ahead of the game and stay on the cutting edge. Maybe look at expanding the 10:30 airport curfew. How can we make this function better?”
DeVore assured Sherwood that the airport is top of the line and ready to get better equipment to make the facility even better.
Swenson summed up what the commissioners wanted to see as a result of the incident. “We want the staff to look at the stormwater plan and then investigate the ideas of using de-icing or anti-icing options,” she said. “We want a full, thorough communication plan developed. And we should look at the curfew issue. We are asking the staff to look at that and come back with recommendations.”
New commissioner Jonathan Houck added that the county should “look for other tools in the toolbox. Don’t just look simply at de-icing or anti-icing. Please explore every opportunity.”
Crosby and DeVore assured him that they would do that and report back to the commissioners.

 
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