Airport’s terminal plans now on hold

The Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport has been forced to slash its $6.5 million project wish list in half as a result of Allegiant Air’s defection.

Several projects planned through 2018, including the $1.3 million first phase of a new terminal building, will now not move forward following the exodus of the airport’s sole commercial carrier.

A new terminal never was certain to be constructed, but it’s less likely with the airport lacking a commercial carrier.

“We really needed to have an airline to justify that expensive cost,” Airport Director Jason Licon said.

Allegiant Air stopped its flights from the airport to Las Vegas and Phoenix last month. Allegiant CEO Maury Gallagher blamed the lack of an air-traffic control tower and too many general aviation aircraft in Fort Collins skies. The withdrawal came after the airline had flown planes at the airport for nearly a decade and despite a 26-percent increase in the number of passengers boarding planes from the airport.

The airport boasts nearly 230 aircraft and more than 20 helicopters. It’s also home to a number of business jets, including ones owned by Woodward Inc., Crop Production Services, billionaire Pat Stryker’s Bohemian Foundation and mobile-technology case maker OtterBox. Representatives of Crop Production Services did not return calls; Woodward and Bohemian declined to comment.

OtterBox CEO Brian Thomas, however, said simple upgrades could make the airport a “real economic driver for our community.” Those upgrades, he said, could include a repaved parking lot, landscaping and improved signage; terminal improvements such as food services, ticketing counters and a basic baggage system; and safety considerations such as an air traffic control tower and crosswind runway.

“With almost 500,000 residents and several major global businesses, our regional airport is not currently reflective of the size or stature of Northern Colorado,” Thomas said in an email. “Our community and business leaders are dedicated to investing in the future by supporting businesses, creating jobs and bolstering the income for the region. The infrastructure of the airport, however, is not reflective of this commitment.”

Opportunities for enhancement no doubt abound at the airport, which has drawn up two plans for its future. One plan calls for $6.5 million in upgrades, assuming another air carrier is found, while the other forecasts half as much funding for improvements with no airline.

One of the biggest improvements would have been a new terminal to replace the modular structure built in 2003 that now houses one of two gates.

Last added to in November 2011, the temporary building that houses Gate 2 feels more like a classroom than an airport. There’s no large window to watch planes land or marvel at the sheer east face of Long’s Peak. A bar in the corner is reminiscent of a bowling alley snack counter.

A new terminal would be a good idea once the airport finds a new carrier, said Jim Clark, CEO of the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The terminal is sparse,” Clark said. “It’s not a big fancy terminal, there’s no question about it.”

The main building, constructed in the early 1990s, houses Gate 1. The Transportation Security Administration takes up half the building.

Travelers are screened here, and afterward, they head through a chain-link gate and up a ramp outside the temporary building to reach their plane. So it’s a far cry from the smooth, quiet train that carries travelers between concourses at Denver International Airport.

Still, the temporary building has enough space for 350 travelers. Gate 2 typically filled up quickly when one of Allegiant’s 166-passenger planes was either departing or landing.

Licon said that the airport still sees some traffic from flights to Nevada chartered by casinos and from flights shipping CSU football players to their next away game. That amounts to about one flight every two weeks instead of six flights each week.

“It will still be used, just not as frequently as we had with the scheduled service,” Licon said.

Despite the decreased traffic, other improvements still will occur.

Next year, an estimated $2.5 million in mostly federal dollars will be spent to pave the airport’s cracking asphalt plane parking area, Licon said. It was last paved in 1977.

As they seek to woo another carrier, airport officials can be proud of the $24 million in funding they have secured, $18 million of which has gone toward capital investments the past eight years. Last year’s airport budget funded a more than $7 million repaving of the runway.

“For the most part, I think we’re in good shape,” Licon said.

But other improvements, like the terminal, are in limbo as the airport looks for a new airline. A lot is at stake including 85 percent of its $1 million in federal annual funding in 2015 if it cannot find a replacement carrier.

The airport already has faced hardship from Allegiant’s withdrawal. It has had to ask Fort Collins and Loveland city councils for $92,500 apiece on top of their usual share of $85,000 each annually.

Seeing red on the horizon, the airport trimmed its 2013 operating budget by $110,000 to $693,100. It cut one position as well as supply and services spending.

Its projected budget shortfall is estimated at $480,000 for the upcoming budget year.

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