TELLURIDE – The Telluride Regional Airport Association Board of Directors has postponed its discussions about a possible extension of airport winter operating hours until it can obtain legal advice over the potential ramifications of such a move.
The board is trying to understand whether extending commercial air service into the airport until as late as 10 p.m. during the winter months would have the unintended consequence of also opening the airport to general aviation during the same hours.
Presently the curfew for both commercial and general aviation flights extends from one-half hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset, year-round. As a result, summer flights can land as late as 9 p.m. while winter flights terminate as early as 5:20 p.m. on the shortest days of the year.
“I thought we ought to just take a step back before we take a vote,” said Board Chairman John Micetic, who polled individual board members via telephone and learned that the majority supported a delay.
In the meantime the board has retained airport law specialist Peter J. Kirsch of the Denver law firm Kaplan Kirsch and Rockwell to provide it with legal advice.
At issue is the intent of the special use permit authorized by the San Miguel County Commissioners in 1985 that established the present airport curfew. In it, commercial air service may operate between one-half hour before sunrise and 10 p.m., while general aviation flights are permitted to fly between one-half hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset.
While that permit originally allowed for after-dark commercial flights, the airport was not able to accommodate night flights until receiving a Federal Aviation Administration grant in 1990 to install lighting.
But that same year the U.S. Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 in which it prohibited airport sponsors from placing new access restrictions or curfews on federally funded airports. So while the airport was finally able to accept the commercial night flights allowed in its special use permit, the F.A.A. indicated that it could not do so without also extending its hours of operation for general aviation operations to achieve parity between the two classifications.
While that has been the board’s understanding of its curfew limitations since that time, in late August the F.A.A. offered a new interpretation of the law and indicated that because the 10 p.m. commercial curfew was in place when A.N.C.A. went into effect, the two different curfew times had been grandfathered in.
As a result, it was the F.A.A.’s new opinion that the Telluride Regional Airport could receive commercial flights after dark in the winter while continuing to restrict general aviation to daylight hours only.
With that the T.R.A.A. board elected to explore its curfew options, stating a need to extend the winter curfew only for commercial flights in order to preserve the $1 million in annual capital improvements funding it receives from federal government. In order to receive that funding at least 10,000 passengers must board commercial flights leaving the airport each year, and the airport is at risk of falling beneath that critical “enplanement” threshold.
Although the airport appeared poised to lose that funding this year because a seven-month construction closure in 2009 meant it did not meet that minimum, the F.A.A. waived the rule thanks to intercession from U.S. Rep. John Salazar.
The T.R.A.A. board was scheduled to meet with the San Miguel County Commissioners on Nov. 3 to further discuss the matter, however that meeting has been cancelled and will be rescheduled when more research has been conducted.
Micetic said he hoped the board might have the information it needs to make a decision before the end of the year.
“We just want to make sure we’ve got our ducks in a row,” he said.