Front Range Airport reaching for new heights

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WATKINS | As the metro area continues growing eastward, Front Range Airport is seeing a steady uptick in corporate jet traffic.

Last year, the airport in Watkins, just a short distance from Aurora’s eastern edge, saw a 26-percent spike in traffic.

“That is very healthy for us,” said Airport Director Dave Ruppel.

And as those new planes touch down at Front Range, they can expect a much smoother ride — from the runway to the hangar — thanks for a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Aeronautical Board.

The board last week announced $1.6 million in grants for 26 Colorado public-use airports under the Colorado Discretionary Aviation Grant Program, which is administered by Colorado Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics.

Front Range is one of those 26 recipients and the money, which the airport is matching with funds for their own budget, will be used on a new taxiway connecting the hangars to the runway.

David Ulane, director of the state’s Aeronautics Division, said the remaining cost of the project — $450,000 — will be covered by a grant from the Federal Aviation Authority.

According to CDOT, the grants ranged in size from $8,333 to $150,000 and will fund projects totaling more than $56 million.

CAB Chairman Ray Beck said in a statement the grants are important for the economy.

“The economic multipliers provided by our airports through the moving of people, goods, and services are tremendous. CDOT’s vision is to help develop and maintain an efficient transportation system, and this grant program certainly helps put that vision into practice. This is an excellent partnership,” he said.

The statement pointed to a 2013 Economic Impact Study of Colorado airports that showed the airports support 265,700 jobs statewide and create a total economic output of $37.6 billion annually.

For Front Range, Ruppel said the project is a crucial one as they try to lure more corporate jets to the airport.

“That particular taxiway is the main artery that runs back into the hangars,” he said. “And it’s in pretty rough shape so this is a huge help for us.”

The taxiway hasn’t been repaired in about 15 years, he said.

The airport sits southeast of Denver International Airport, just a short drive north of Interstate 70 and within a few miles of several large-scale Aurora projects, including the Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center.

Developers last week announced plans for a massive housing and retail development near I-70 and E-470 called Aurora Highlands, which could bring as many as 60,000 people to a 5,000 acre site.

Developments like that will only help the airport, Ruppel said, because they will help lure businesses closer.

And as those projects are being developed, Ruppel said Front Range hopes to become a hub for the companies building them who need quick corporate jet service nearby.

“A lot of people don’t know that Front Range exists so just raising that awareness with the companies like Gaylord and those other developers so they can pass that information along to their teams is something that’s useful to us,” he said.