Durango-La Plata County Airport plans terminal remodel to aid airline staff

Long-term vision for airport still in limbo, director says

Durango-La Plata County Airport Aviation Director Tony Vicari is proposing a terminal construction project in 2018 to remodel areas used by airline staff members. Enlargephoto

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file

Durango-La Plata County Airport Aviation Director Tony Vicari is proposing a terminal construction project in 2018 to remodel areas used by airline staff members.

The Durango-La Plata County Airport may remodel part of its terminal next year to improve space used by airline staff members.

The airport expects to spend $465,000 on the remodel and $350,000 on parking lot maintenance, a water storage tank, snow-removal equipment and security upgrades in 2018, according to a presentation of the city’s proposed 2018 budget.

The building remodel will improve working conditions for airline staff members. It could also make room for an additional airline to serve the airport, Mayor Dick White said.

“Expanding that area to give the airlines room to work effectively, I think, is very, very important,” White said.

After a property tax measure to build a new terminal on the east side of the runway failed in November, the Durango City Council and La Plata County commissioners in February asked airport officials to work on short-term improvements.

Aviation Director Tony Vicari said in a meeting last week that the long-term direction of the airport is unknown.

“That left us in limbo,” he said about the failed measure. “We don’t have a concrete direction,” he said.

The timeline for the city and county to revisit the long-term vision for the airport is not set, but White hopes to discuss the issue next year, he said. The city and county are both facing major fiscal challenges, which will factor into the conversation, he said.

“Funding a new airport terminal may not make the short list,” he said.

La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said there has been research about a public-private partnership to fund airport improvements, but there are many unanswered questions about that kind of arrangement.

“It’s really more kicking tires at this point to see if there is anything worth exploring,” she said.

Interim improvements are important, especially for airline employees, who are working in an area that smells and looks like a garage, she said.

“That’s not a good environment for anybody’s employees,” she said.

The airlines are expecting to pay the airport 3 percent more in rent and landing fees starting in January, and those increased fees will result in an additional $13,700 next year, according to the budget presentation.

The airport is also planning to hire a contractor to study the airport’s fees. Vicari expects results of that study next year.

“We should not be throwing away potential revenue,” he said.

The cost per out-bound passenger to the airlines at the airport is $2.68, less than half of what airlines pay at other comparable airports, Vicari said.

The airport also plans to eliminate funding for the Aviation Celebration next year. In years past, the event featured aircraft of all kinds, including drones, private planes, military aircraft and experimental craft such as ultra-light planes.

The event required too much staff members’ time to continue, and a third party to run the event could not be identified, Vicari said.

The airport plans to increase its marketing budget by $47,100 in 2018. The increased budget includes funding that would have been used for the Aviation Celebration.