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Taking off in style

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Despite hard economic times and fewer flyers, the Colorado Springs airport will feed $40 million into the local economy by the end of 2012 as it works to complete five remodeling and upgrading projects.

The projects are being funded with federal dollars from the likes of the Defense Access Roadway Program, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration. Other money comes directly from airport fees and reserves.

The following projects are already or soon-to-be underway:

• the third phase of rehabilitation of airport taxiways (internal roads), at a cost of more than $9.6 million;

• an expanded security screening checkpoint, $1.8 million;

• a new inspection system for checked baggage, nearly $17.8 million;

• new administrative offices, $1.2 million;

• new roads for military use, $9.8 million.

Reasons for the projects vary, ranging from increased security needs for the baggage and screening systems to freeing up more office space. Airport spokesperson Agnes Blachut notes that most contractors, subcontractors and suppliers for the current projects are local.

That's good news for the local economy, but somewhat surprising, given that year-to-date passenger levels are 2.9 percent below 2010. And 2010 levels were 6 percent below 2009's.

However, according to Mark Earle, the airport's director of aviation, "The airport's about as sound as it can get."

He points out that the airport runs three other business centers, including general aviation, Peterson Air Force Base, and the airport business park. Overall airport revenues have dipped only slightly in the past few years, and the airport has compensated by cutting expenditures. In fact, Earle says, the airport has sufficient reserves to operate for two years without revenue.

Earle adds in an e-mail, "Most capital projects are associated with long term infrastructure needs that are not affected by short term downturns in operating activity."

Does that logic resonate with city leaders? Well, maybe.

City Councilor Brandy Williams says the airport has hardly been her biggest concern of late, but she does see both pros and cons to doing major projects while airport traffic is on the decrease.

"You do it now when numbers are down and you're hoping numbers will go up," Williams theorizes. "And when numbers are down, there's less passengers to disrupt. But, at the same time, you have to question whether this is the best place for the money to go."

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