November 3, 2023

Editorial: NoCo Regional Airport should pursue traditional air-traffic control tower

Northern Colorado Regional Airport has had its share of setbacks in recent months and years.

From the loss of regularly scheduled passenger service — remember Allegiant and Avelo? — to controversy over hangar demolition and the departure of the airport manager, the airport has struggled to bring projects in for a landing.

But it could be the latest setback — a private contractor pulling out of the remote-tower project — that could ready the airport for takeoff.

NoCo Regional is owned jointly by the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins. It’s a cumbersome governance structure that doesn’t always lead to crafting the right strategic direction for the facility.

The remote-tower project has faltered since the experiment was launched five years ago. Changing requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, caused repeated delays in its development and certification.

Most recently, Nepean, Ontario-based Searidge Technologies, the company that the FAA selected in 2018 to be the tower’s technology partner, withdrew from the project, citing “ongoing challenges with the FAA’s certification of remote towers.”

Although the Colorado Department of Transportation subsequently voiced its continued support for the project, no definitive timeline for testing and certification exists, a fact that contributed to the loss of Allegiant and Avelo.

With that unknown, the airport commission is considering a parallel path to develop a traditional tower.

We strongly support that approach.

While the remote tower idea remains intriguing — providing for air-traffic control at far less cost for construction, maintenance and staffing — there is no guarantee that the project will ever function as required, and no firm timeline for its completion even if it’s determined to work.

A parallel approach would assure that a permanent air-traffic-control system is in place, one way or another, even if it takes several more years.

At the same time, the airport is moving forward with two projects that should help attract regularly scheduled passenger service — once the tower situation is resolved.

The airport in July broke ground on a $22 million, 19,400-square-foot terminal building, which should prove attractive to airlines.

And the airport is seeking public comment on an expansion of its main north-south runway, widening it by 50 feet to 150 feet, which would enable it to accommodate larger aircraft such as Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s.

With such progress, airport officials could use pursuit of a physical tower to bring the facility — at long last — out of its present, frustrating holding pattern.

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