DENVER — Front Range Airport (FTG) was the last general aviation airport to be constructed in Colorado, and over the last 26 years has developed infrastructure capable of accommodating large aircraft.
Comments executive director of aviation Dennis Heap, “Our full potential was not realized as FAA held our runway strength down because of concerns Denver International Airport (DEN) had about FTG opening the airport to scheduled airline service.”
For the last two years, relates Heap, the airport has been assisted by Colorado Aeronautics and has worked with DEN towards developing a plan for FTG that was complimentary to the Denver Airport System.
FTG is one of three relievers to DEN (others are Centennial and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan) and the airport is 27 years-old, yet some 20 years behind the other relievers in terms of surrounding development, says Heap.
“We are probably one of the more self-sufficient airports you’ll find ... part of that is our nature, and part is out of necessity. We operate the cafe, constructed and maintain the ATC tower, the FBO — and we keep doing things like that. We do it because we have to until we get the kind of growth we want; until the private sector comes in and starts taking things over.”
Early last year aviation consultancy SH&E undertook a study here focused on identifying compatible business development strategies. Completed in August, the study articulated reasons the airport has not realized some growth goals, and identified opportunities thought to be achievable.
Air cargo and scheduled passenger service were identified as non-attainable; however, the upper end of general aviation, military, and aircraft storage were identified as target opportunities, explains Heap.
“Front Range began as a GA airport and was going to become a cargo mecca,” he says. “At one point, both FedEx and UPS had signed to be here, and FAA started putting money into the airport [in the early ‘90s].
“All of that was coming together, but due to cost overruns and other issues, cargo went back to DEN; FAA stopped developing for that.”
What happened eventually, says Heap, is DEN started working with Front Range. The business development plan, funded by the state (a joint-venture with oversight by DEN and Front Range Airport) asked: What does the facility become so it is a benefit to the Denver Airport System without hurting scheduled service at DEN?
The study determined that FTG is positioned for three growth areas:
1) Alternative for business aircraft presently using DEN for transient fuel stops and ski traffic;
2) Military; and
3) Aircraft storage, including maintenance repair & overhaul (MRO), aircraft painting, aircraft scrapping, and aircraft assembly.
According to Heap, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) identifies the area south of DEN and north of I-70 to Front Range as the growth area for industrial, manufacturing, and flex distribution for the metropolitan area.
A primary advantage for FTG is its location and footprint, relates Heap. “FTG is unique in the metropolitan area as it is the only general aviation airport without major nearby residential areas,” he says. “It also has no bonded indebtedness and consequently, users pay low facility and land lease fees. The Airport’s 3,339 acres makes FTG larger than all other general aviation airports in the area combined.”
FTG is an airport-operated FBO, and a large part of its growth strategy is in capturing business and corporate aviation traffic that utilize DEN. “For us to operate the airport for GA,” says Heap, “we can’t grow a facility like this by just relying on piston-engine aircraft activity; not in this economic environment.
“Our future is in serving business aviation ... and part of that is, we are right next to DEN — what happens is there are connections between general aviation and the scheduled airlines there.”
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