It’s 2021, and we are anticipating the opening of our newly expanded airport terminal. What did we know five years earlier that allowed us to make the tough decisions and keep pace with an ever-changing airline industry?
In 2016, we knew our region was economically strong. We had diversification. We had new construction, tourism was growing and population was increasing at a manageable 1.5 percent per year. Yet, we had challenges in the energy sector, aging sewer and water infrastructure, roads and bridges in need of maintenance, and our airport was becoming obsolete.
These problems were substantial and costly, but they weren’t going to fix themselves, nor improve without taking action. We knew growth would continue, and we had the opportunity then to choose between a planned future or kicking the can down the road.
Back in 2016, Durango was already serving as the definitive Four Corners hub for government, health care, education, business and tourism, and our airport served an eight-county region in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. By 2015, our airport’s enplanements had steadily grown to top 190,000 and become the fifth-busiest airport in Colorado, while the only other commercial airports in the region had severely contracted. Cortez had declined to 2,400+/- and Farmington to 3,100+/- enplanements, respectively. And our airport was already a significant regional economic driver responsible for 2,646 direct and indirect jobs, $94.5 million in payroll and $282.3 million in economic benefit.
Even prior to 2016, it was clear to us our airport – originally built to accommodate fewer than 100,000 passengers and much smaller planes – was showing significant operational deficiencies.
If you flew, you knew: parking was challenging, food and beverage service areas outdated, ticket counter lines long and congested, security process painstakingly slow and baggage delivery frustrating.
Some changes were out of our control. The airline industry had been consolidating, eliminating prop airplanes and smaller regional jets (30-50 passengers ) in favor of bigger jets (70 to 125 passengers); challenging smaller regional airports not originally built for larger aircraft to deepen and widen parking ramps; improve taxiways; and increase bag-handling areas. Durango’s airport either had to provide the facilities needed to accommodate the next generation of aircraft or start to lose flights. In 2016, Durango was competing with other airports for a new Los Angeles International Airport flight, laying the groundwork for a Houston hub connection and needing to accommodate and fill the new larger planes in order to keep up with the industry and the needs of the eight-county region the airport was serving.
In 2016, we faced several important community issues that would affect the future quality of life and economy. So we asked ourselves, “Are we future ready?” That question will be answered when we look backwards from 2021.
email@example.com. Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.