On March 15, 2019, three men, Dale VanZant, Thomas Briggs and Jeff Bowman submitted a document to the City of Longmont that included recommendations for Vance Brand Airport.
What makes this document important is that these men are not affiliated with the City of Longmont. VanZant is the Airport Advisory Board chairman, Bowman is a local entrepreneur and Briggs was previously the chief financial officer for the City of Denver. Each of these men reside in Longmont and utilize the airport.
Nearly two years ago, these men began discussions with a broad coalition of people who are interested in the development of Vance Brand Airport. This coalition is comprised of numerous developers, Longmont City Council members, Longmont City Staff, Longmont Owner’s and Pilot’s Association, the Longmont Economic Development Partnership, various aircraft and hanger owners, Quiet Skies spokespeople, individuals opposed to all airport operations and landowners whose property is needed to expand the runway.
These three men include in their report that the opinions expressed are strictly their own although much input was gathered by other members of the coalition in the development of the report.
At the time these discussions began, pilots and hangar owners wanted to open discussions with the City of Longmont on ways to improve the airport. Thus far, the relationship between the two entities was in “poor shape,” according to Bowman.
Bowman offered to act as a mediator between the two groups. He met with Councilmember Tim Waters who suggested to bring in Briggs, who had been essential in the development of Denver International Airport.
The group expanded to include the larger coalition. They wanted to evaluate the current condition of the airport and look at the options available.
“After months of discussion, the city council members encouraged us to do an economic analysis,” states Bowman. Briggs took the lead on assessing the economic impact of investing in the Vance Brand Airport.
After getting into the assessment, Briggs, Bowman and VanZant realized that the three of them did not have the necessary resources to complete the economic evaluation effectively. They believe that the assessment should be conducted by the City of Longmont.
These three men changed their investigation to concentrate on what they felt were the three primary paths that the city could take in regards to the airport. Those paths include: closing the airport, doing nothing or investing in the airport.
According to Bowman, research showed that closing the airport was most likely not a viable option. The group references the Santa Monica Airport, which is scheduled to close in 2028 after trying to close in the early 1980s. This long wait has seen many legal battles with the FAA before being granted permission to close.
If Longmont decided to close Vance Brand, the group suggests that it could take 22-40 years before the airport would be allowed to close, even if all outstanding FAA grants were repaid.
According to Shawn Lewis, Longmont assistant city manager, “There are two reasons why this option would not be considered. 1) If the City chose to close the Airport, the City of Longmont would be required to repay millions of dollars to the FAA as a result of grant assurances the FAA has put on past grants given to the Vance Brand by the FAA. 2) The FAA Administrator would likely not allow closure by the City because of Vance Brand Airport’s importance in the National Airspace System (NAS), and because it is part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS)which relies on all classifications of airports (commercial, reliever, general aviation, etc.) to function properly.”
Over the last few years the economic vitality of the airport has remained the same. This is an option the city could choose and nothing would change.
“The truth of the matter is, from the standpoint of the pilots that are out there, me being one of those, the airport as it currently exists services our needs just fine. We don’t need a longer runway. I don’t need a longer runway for my airplane, neither does Dale. I would say that for most of the folks that are currently out there that is true, because it is mostly a hobby or sporting aviation community out there. But our needs as plane owners and pilots are different than the needs of the business aviation community which would be a viable offset to the community,” states Bowman
The difference in these needs is why Bowman and his group are recommending a third option. That option is to invest in the airport and to treat it as a public utility that could better serve Longmont and Boulder County. This assessment looked at what changes need to be made to provide those resources and ways in which to fund those changes.
Several FAA grants were identified that the City of Longmont had not accessed in the past.
The group also suggested that if the city were to change some policies surrounding the airport, developers would be attracted to Vance Brand and would invest in some of the infrastructure necessary for the airport.
According to Bowman, because of the lack of a sufficient runway, many pilots are flying into neighboring airports instead of Longmont. He believes that if this were rectified, then more aviation business would spring up at Vance Brand.
If these suggestions were to come to fruition, basic infrastructure such as sewer, water and electricity would be needed to be provided to the expanded areas of the airport. These would be the only costs absorbed by the City of Longmont.
After their assessment, the group decided to suggest that the City of Longmont follow the 2012 Master Plan adopted by the City of Longmont. After much public debate surrounding the issue, the Master Plan incorporated plans to expand the airport.
Funding for large projects is one of the reasons the city has not followed the Master Plan. Expansion of the runway itself will cost over $10 million.
In an email from Lewis, he states that the City of Longmont has “Engaged with discussions with the FAA and the Colorado Division of Aeronautics regarding the extension of the runway for the past seven years.” However, due to a major funding shortfall in the Division of Aeronautics budget in 2014, the Vance Brand runway extension project was delayed until 2027.
In October 2018, the City of Longmont learned of supplemental discretionary funds from the FAA and grant requests were made by Vance Brand Airport Management. If awarded, these funds would support both the runway extension and the expansion of utility infrastructure on the south side of the airport.
Lewis also mentioned that, “Airport Management recently released a Request for Proposals to develop a vacant parcel on the north side of the airport. A proposal was received and the City is working with a potential developer on new hangar development on the north side. In addition, Vance Brand does have an aggressive runway and taxiway maintenance program represented in the Airport’s Capital Improvement Plan (ACIP). Because Vance Brand, like most general aviation airports in the U.S., does not generate adequate revenue to construct all needed infrastructure improvements (like the runway extension), the City of Longmont depends on grant resources from the FAA and the State Division of Aeronautics. The next funded project will commence next year—the Runway Safety Area (RSA) project. In that project, the FAA, CDOT and the City’s Airport Fund have programmed funding totaling $460,000 (90% by the FAA, 5% by CDOT, and 5% by the Airport Fund). The total cost to the Airport Fund will be $23,000 based on the engineer’s estimate.”
Lewis also states that as of April 18, 2019, “Neither City staff nor City Council have discussed the options provided in the report, but the document has been reviewed by airport management, relevant City staff and City Council.” He does state that the document has been brought before the Airport Advisory Board where some safety conclusions were identified and the report has since been amended to reflect the discussion. However, the City of Longmont is unclear what data sets were used and how the authors came to their conclusions in the original formation of this report.
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