This is the question before the Telluride Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors Thursday morning, when it meets at the Telluride Fire District meeting room at 10 a.m. to decide how best to act upon a subcommittee’s March 10 recommendation that airport operating hours be extended beyond the 28-year-old airport’s historic “sun-up to sundown” schedule.
This week, the TRAA board was asked to delay making that decision in a letter signed by San Miguel County Board of Commissioners Chair Joan May, requesting that it “defer any action on the report that would extend TEX’s current operating hours until the BOCC and the TRAA board members have had the opportunity to meet and discuss the matter.”
“BOCC has historically been a required co-signor on TRAA’s FAA grant award agreements,” May observed in the two-page letter. “We hope to continue this relationship.”
May asked a range of questions from what “specific change” in operating hours was being considered and “specifically, how was the 9 p.m. curfew determined,” for more data regarding financial aspects of the decision, and for specific information about requirements concerning the airport’s “annual $1 million in FAA Entitlement Funds” the airport now receives.
“This threat is meant to intimidate the TRAA into taking no action and wasting more time,” blasted Telluride real estate broker Matthew Hintermeister, a member of the Facebook group, “I Support a Healthy Telluride Regional Airport,” upon reading the letter.
A less velvet-gloved demand that the board desist was hand-delivered to the airport board and county on Tuesday, March 22, from the attorney for the group, No Night Flights Network.
As attorney Erin Johnson’s letter accompanying her 12-page “Verified Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief” made clear, this complaint would be filed immediately upon the “TRAA’s unilateral decision made on March 24, 2011, to change its hours of operation to include early morning and night flights outside of the current curfew restrictions.”
The group, as NoNightFlights.net, has taken to the internet as well, to further circulate its petition charging that “night flights will adversely impact our pristine environment, are inherently less safe and are in direct conflict with representations and promises made by the TRAA to the County Commissioners, to the airport’s neighbors and to the public at large,” and is offering colorful free bumper stickers to all signers.
Earlier that same day, County Attorney Steven Zwick had issued a legal memorandum opining that “the BOCC’s legal authority” to effect TEX operating hours, as established back in 1983, “was preempted by federal law,” even when the county land use decisions were made.
It “appears,” Zwick wrote in the memo, that the current FAA stance is that “local governments may not use their land use/zoning authority to regulate the expansion of airport facilities,” so that the county’s hands are effectively tied regarding airport curfew issues.
But could a determination that No Night Flights Network Plaintiffs would, as stated in the group’s complaint, “suffer immediate and irreparable injury, loss and harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law” should aircraft be allowed “to land and take off at times outside of the current curfew restrictions,” be used to maintain existing TEX curfews?
“We need to do everything we can to attract additional commercial flights,” report co-author Jon Dwight told The Watch last week.
The airport’s present curfew allows for both commercial and general aviation flights to extend from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset, year-round, so that 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.
Extended winter flights could allow commercial airlines at least two additional round-trip flights a day, and an overnight stay for early-morning next-day departures, extending travel schedules, increasing use of the airport and producing new revenues.
The FAA mandates the same operating hours must be extended to general aviation flights, as well.
“We are looking to extend them for both commercial and general aviation because we don’t believe we can separate out the two without a lot of issues,” Dwight told The Watch.
In addition to enabling the airport to meet its minimum enplanement threshold for the $1 million in federal funding, the report said the airport stands to net $235,000 in profits from commercial and general aviation fuel sales alone, just by operating until 9 p.m. between November and March.
In addition to gaining from the extended hours, the report suggested, the better air access would act as an incentive to draw tourism to Telluride, as opposed to competing resorts, and capture existing guest spending now diverted to grocery, liquor and sports stores in Montrose because of better commercial flight availability there.
“The benefits to the Telluride community from having both a commercial and general aviation airport less than 15 minutes away are considerable,” it states. “The negative impacts to the community are considered to be minimal.”
Despite the purported benefits of extended nighttime operations, No Night Flights Network, comprised largely of airport neighbors in the Aldasoro development, remains opposed because of concerns such as noise and light pollution and, above all, safety.
The TRAA has, in the meantime, moved Thursday's 10 a.m. meeting to the Telluride Fire Station’s meeting room, and joins the county in urging all interested parties to attend.