By John F. Infanger
ENGLEWOOD, CO – When Robert Olislagers, A.A.E., came here in September, 2000, the airport board that hired him gave him the primary goal of making peace with the nearby communities. Despite its position as the second busiest general aviation airport in the U.S., the ongoing local battles were hindering the airport’s future, particularly in maintaining basic infrastructure. Since that time, Olislagers and other civic leaders have made monumental strides in finding common goals and creating a united direction for the airport. Next on the agenda: restore FAA funding, which has been withheld since 1998.
Ironically, much of the dramatic business growth in the Interstate 25 corridor south of downtown Denver is connected to Centennial Airport, built in 1968 on the high plains just east of the Rocky Mountains. "Those 6,000 businesses represent about 25 percent of the entire gross domestic product of the state," explains Olislagers.
(Jet-A, Avgas) - Gallons
Since the new Denver Interna-tional Airport opened in 1994, activity at Centennial has skyrocketed, evidenced by the growth in fuel sales [chart] that have increased by an average million gallons per year since. More importantly, says Olislagers, corporates came, changing the complexion of the GA airport.
The airport’s 1,400 acres include parallel north-south runways, one 10,000-foot, a crosswind, major corporate flight departments, an FAA operated control tower, customs, and annual operations of some 421,000, of which some 30 percent are flight training. Three major fixed base operations are here: Signature Flight Support, TAC Air, and Denver Jet Center, which has the majority of the airport’s acreage under lease. Some 700 aircraft are based at Centennial. Pilatus and Piper distributorships are on airport, as is Adam Aircraft, which is designing a new personal jet.
There is also an array of businesses located outside the fence on airport-owned property, including a major hotel, two hockey facilities,
a family fun/ golf/sports complex, a training center for the Colorado Avalanche NHL team, and a golf course owned by the airport and managed under private contract. All this activity accounts for annual airport revenues of some $5 million, and the airport operates in the black though it is hampered in its development because of FAA’s decision to withhold Airport Improvement Program funds, brought about when the airport voted to ban scheduled service, violating the grant assurances. The ban came about, say officials, because of the distrust that had brewed in the nearby communities and an underlying fear that Centenntial was about to become an air carrier airport.
Comments Olislagers, "We really had a problem here. It was not until we started some outreach initiatives that it began to change. Now we do Congressional appreciation days and match corporate users up with Con-gressional reps. They never politicked here before; yesterday, I was at the State Capitol testifying on a bill, which we never used to do.
"We’ve got everybody talking now. All the mayors were part of the compact [agreed to in 2002], with the homeowners associations, where we agreed that we will permit nine seats or less [commercial service], with the goal of working toward trying to keep scheduled service out."
As a way to get FAA to reconsider, Olislagers has been spearheading a move to get the rules rewritten, more specifically rewritten as they apply to one airport: Centennial. The recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed in Washington does just that, with wording orchestrated by Olislagers that would allow Centennial to ban scheduled service. In essence, Section 321 could lead to renewed FAA funding.