Colorado: Investing in aviation’s future

March 14, 2012

Airport improvements and aerospace education are moving forward in Colorado under programs to reinvest state fuel-tax revenues in aviation infrastructure and teaching programs.

On March 9, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that $20.4 million in state grants would be distributed among 47 airports under the Discretionary Aviation Grant Program for 2012, providing access to millions of dollars more in federal support.

“Colorado’s airports are an important part of our state’s economic engine,” he said in a news release. “By leveraging these grants with local and federal funds, these critical airport improvements will create jobs and help ensure that Colorado’s transportation system can meet the growing needs of our businesses and travel industry.” The state funds would leverage a total of $61.3 million for airport improvements.

General aviation was a big winner: Many of the airports receiving grant funds are small airports that typically do not benefit significantly from federal Airport Improvement Program funding, said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy.

One such airport is the Craig-Moffat Airport in Craig County. It combined $400,000 of state funds and $55,527 of local funds to secure matching grants of $473,772 from the federal Airport Improvement Program for general aviation ramp and apron improvement projects.

Hickenlooper’s announcement cited a 2008 study indicating that “economic activity generated by Colorado’s 14 commercial airports and 60 public-use airports results in more than 340,000 jobs, with a payroll in excess of $11 billion and total economic activity generated by businesses, tenants, and other on-airport activities at more than $32 billion annually.”

Aerospace education

State grant funding of $81,759 will support elementary aviation education through the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, and its Wings Aerospace Science Program (WASP) and KidSpace Program.

Megan Quitter, the museum’s education director, estimated that 573 teachers using the teaching kit developed for the WASP program are delivering aerospace education to 20,940 students in third through eighth grades.

The state grants are matched 50-50 by the museum for the programs, with the long-term goal of readying the state’s workforce for entry-level employment in the aerospace industry, she said.

The grants also allow the museum to create “a buzz or enthusiasm for aerospace” by bringing aerospace activities to children attending airshows and aviation expos around the state, she said. In 2011, corporate support for programs came from J.P. Morgan Chase, Jeppesen, Boeing, and the aerospace industry’s United Launch Alliance.

Under state legislation passed in 1991 to channel aviation fuel tax proceeds for aviation purposes, Colorado has made 65-percent reimbursements to airports of origin, and applied the remaining 35 percent “to serve the maintenance, capital equipment, and developmental needs of Colorado’s 79 public-use airports” under the discretionary program, says the Colorado Department of Transportation’s website.

After a good year in 2011, the state aviation fund was pronounced “in good health” by Colorado Aeronautical Board Chairman Harold Patton.

“Colorado is a great example of aviation fuel taxes at work,” said Pecoraro. “Members can appreciate how effectively their state fuel tax dollars are distributed back to Colorado airports for important improvements and enhancements.” He urged members to inform legislators and other state elected officials of pilots’ continuing support for the Colorado aviation fuel tax structure.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.