Scepticism exists over economic benefit of airport runway extension

The following was addressed to Longmont City Council on March 14,2011, in response to the presentation of the final three chapters of the Airport Master Plan. This Airport Master Plan is controversial because of the inclusion of a runway extension at Vance Brand Airport. In addition, an ongoing controversy exists over the noise generated by Mile-Hi Skydiving by their dawn to dusk operation during good weather.

Otter at Longmont Vance Brand Airport

Otter at Longmont Vance Brand Airport 11-2-2011

I would like to comment on the airport master plan and urge you to remove the runway extension from the plan. I believe the runway extension will increase airplane traffic and result in more environmental impacts, especially noise.

A major justification for the airport expansion is that it will create jobs. Chapter 8 of the master plan, titled “Airport Economic Impacts” summarizes the economic benefits of the airport on the region’s economy.

For example, “In 2010 the airport supported an estimated 257 jobs in Colorado that earned a total of $5.3 million.” First, these jobs are not necessarily in Longmont. And second, if you do the math that works out to an average salary of $20,622 annually. The scope of the master plan is limited and does not provide any context for these figures.

Chapter 8 devotes a lot of attention to Mile-Hi Skydiving Center – as they are one of the top two employers. The report states “In 2010, the payroll and benefits at each of these companies exceeded $100,000.” Is that a lot? Does the economic benefit justify the cost to the community of living under a blanket of noise? Let’s put the $100,000 payroll in perspective.

For comparison, Chapter 8 mentions a few specific companies in Longmont – IBM, Seagate, Intel and Amgen. These companies employ skilled workers. The average salary for a software engineer is about $100,000 – for one employee. A healthy economy relies on a diverse employment base, but higher salaries generate a bigger impact within the local economy.

Consider also the new Covidien Research and Innovation Center located in Gunbarrel. Covidien employs 1,800 skilled workers locally. They chose to locate in Boulder County because “The culture of innovation here is second to none.” These are the businesses that will lead to economic prosperity. They don’t require being next door to an airport and they don’t rely on government subsidies to remain viable.

The way to build a strong economy in Longmont is by providing a high quality of life, and attracting manufacturing and high-tech companies – not by extending the runway.

  6 comments for “Scepticism exists over economic benefit of airport runway extension

  1. Gregory Iwan
    March 18, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    The key in these kinds of things is always “economic benefit(s) for whom,” and “economic impacts TO whom.” If the push is to sell more JP-7 or even JP-8 at the Vance Brand FBO, then the City ought to say so and refrain from couching its aims in “planning” language. The latter seems to LOOK well, but incrementally, where is the benefit, really? So long as any added tax FROM the airport does NOT stay ON the airport (a provision I’d doubt), then perhaps there might be a “good” for the COMMUNITY as a whole. Other than that, perhaps the local brew pubs could put up posters at the airport; at least a few of the jet-setters might drop a few dinero in town after all. But my guess is that the citizenry will soon find out just how “artificial” their “horizon” really is. And folks who live alongside Vance Brand will have to get used to it.

  2. LTLR
    March 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I do understand people have problems with the noise generated by some aircraft, specifically the twin otter owned by mile hi. What I don’t understand is why the economic benefits of a longer runway include mile hi. It is my understanding that mile hi will not benefit from a longer runway, they don’t need one to continue generating money and pay employees. I thought the economical impact was describing future growth, encouraging larger aircraft to safely take off full of fuel without impacting the current economical benefits the airport already offers. I’m not sure a longer runway will improve Longmont’s economy at all, but I do think it will make our airport safer. We’re stuck with mile hi either way, and maybe with a longer runway, pilots can land at the airport and not on Hover st.

  3. March 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Great article Kim! Good points about the figures being used.

    March 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    From what I’ve heard in Alaska and western Canada, that Twin Otter doesn’t need very much runway under normal operating conditions. So, extra asphalt does what?

  5. June 22, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Comment blocked from – IP address

    Fake address but IP is in Longmont.

    To the person that posted the comment insulting Ms. Gibbs – grow up.

    All comments are moderated and our commenting rules are enforced.

  6. Mark Richardson
    November 11, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Here it is late in 2016. Both Amgen and DigitalGlobe have moved out of Longmont, Digital to Avaya’s old facility that is less than 1/3rd of the distance to Rocky Mtn. Metropolitan Airport, which has runways long enough for business jets to fly non-stop to Asia or South America if need be.

    A quick check of available Longmont commercial real estate shows more than a million square feet of prime space sitting vacant just on the west side of the city while the new incarnation of the Twin Peaks Mall can’t make payments on its debt.

    Could lengthening the runway at Vance Brand Airport have prevented some of this loss?

    Probably not in the case of Digital, as the former Avaya facility they moved into was large-enough to allow them to consolidate four separate Colorado facilities and have room to grow by 50%. That facility is also about half the distance to DIA that their former Longmont location was, and that $4.36 million in tax relief that Colorado gave Digital to move also greatly reduced their cost. Other taxes are less-expensive in Adams County than in Boulder County too.

    Could still lengthening the runway at Vance Brand possibly help reduce the currently high commercial real estate vacancy rate on the west side of Longmont? I personally would think that it might. Do know that some of today’s most-modern business jets really aren’t that loud either, probably not even as-loud as a Twin Otter loaded heavily. In-fact a longer runway might allow the skydiving company either to reduce power on takeoff and climb-out or allow them to look into other aircraft that might not be quite as loud too.

    Even though I am a Private Pilot and an Urban Planner I don’t find it unreasonable to limit operating hours and/or establish low nighttime noise limits, as plenty of other general aviation facilities nationwide have similar use prohibitions to protect local residents. Even if the one property on 75th St was bought out and removed the maximum length of any runway extension would still only bring the runway up to about 6700 feet, which wouldn’t be long-enough for most business jets to fly more than 3 hours on range anyway.

    I still feel that lengthening the runway is worth a try as Longmont must act to try to increase local competitiveness in the hope of reducing the local high commercial property vacancy rate and hopefully create more local employment as well as more local spending in the process too. Perhaps the runway extension proposal should be combined with nighttime noise limits, and even some prohibition on aircraft noise that exceeds certain decibel limits too as there are plenty of newer business aircraft that are half as loud as older ones too.

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