Government & Politics  December 15, 2023

Northern Colorado airport keeps options open for air traffic control tower

LOVELAND — The Northern Colorado Regional Airport will keep its options open with regard to installation of an air traffic control tower and will renew a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to make that happen.

The airport commission voted 8-0 Thursday afternoon to recommend approval of a new FAA Contract Tower Operating Agreement. The new agreement, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2024, without a lapse from the contract that ends Dec. 31, 2023, enables the airport to pursue development of a remote tower — now called digital tower — while simultaneously planning for the construction of a brick-and-mortar traditional air traffic control tower.

As described by interim airport manager David Ruppel and Francis Robbins, operations and maintenance manager at the airport, the agreement permits either approach and in about 24 months the airport commission will reach a fork in the road when commission members will need to determine whether to move in one direction or the other.

The regional airport owned by Fort Collins and Loveland has been grappling with establishing a permanent air traffic control solution that might attract a scheduled service airline. A contractor that had been working with the airport and with the FAA on a digital, non-traditional tower pulled out this year, and another vendor stepped in with a willingness to continue development. The commission has debated whether to continue on with the digital tower approach or switch gears and establish a traditional tower. Either approach requires years of effort; some members of the commission questioned whether to pursue a digital approach and potentially have to start over if that failed.

The contract approved Thursday permits both to move forward.

Until permanent air traffic control is established, the commission also authorized airport staff to rent and maintain a mobile facility and to purchase the minimum equipment needed to operate it.

Robbins told the commission that the FAA was willing to pay $600,000 per year to employ five air traffic controllers for the mobile facility if the airport would provide the facilities and equipment at an annual cost of about $170,000.

In other business Thursday:

  • The commission elected officers — Fort Collins mayor Jeni Arndt will chair the commission, and Jerry Stooksbury will serve as vice chair. Loveland mayor Jacki Marsh and Loveland councilmember Troy Krenning took seats on the commission as appointed by the Loveland City Council.
  • Pilot Rick Turley updated the commission on efforts to establish a permanent solution for hangars for private plane operators. A “shovel-ready” site for a new hangar has yet to be determined, he said.
  • Developer Martin Lind, who owns the privately run Discovery Air operation at the airport, asked the commission “to break the logjam” and “establish parity” so that Discovery can compete equitably with its competitor, JetCenter. He said he needs to build a fixed-based operation with a fuel concession and clear up issues with the lease that his company has with the cities. Commission members noted that the lease is with the cities, not the commission, and the cities “don’t feel that discussions are done” over the issues. The commission asked for an executive session with legal counsel in order to hear the status of disputes between the parties.

LOVELAND — The Northern Colorado Regional Airport will keep its options open with regard to installation of an air traffic control tower and will renew a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to make that happen.

The airport commission voted 8-0 Thursday afternoon to recommend approval of a new FAA Contract Tower Operating Agreement. The new agreement, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2024, without a lapse from the contract that ends Dec. 31, 2023, enables the airport to pursue development of a remote tower — now called digital tower — while simultaneously planning for the construction of a brick-and-mortar traditional…

Ken Amundson
Ken Amundson is managing editor of BizWest. He has lived in Loveland and reported on issues in the region since 1987. Prior to Colorado, he reported and edited for news organizations in Minnesota and Iowa. He's a parent of two and grandparent of four, all of whom make their homes on the Front Range. A news junkie at heart, he also enjoys competitive sports, especially the Rapids.
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