By S. Clayton Moore
After the impact of September 11, business is getting back to normal at Jefferson County Airport.
“The industry is starting to recover,” said Troy Stover, acting airport manager.
Stover says that things have definitely improved for Jeffco, the airport that started as a small strip over 40 years ago and is now the heart of corporate aviation in the northwest corridor. It has, however, been hard for its businesses to resume activity after the troubles of last year.
“We’ve plowed our way back into profitability, and we’re doing a little better,” said Elliot Arthur, owner of and an instructor at Jeffco Flight School.
Stover noted that the airport, home to a business environment that is diverse and made up of a combination of flight schools, charter companies, maintenance shops, two restaurants and two fixed base operations—Denver Air and Stevens Aviation—is “almost like a small city.”
Altogether, there are roughly 40 businesses on the field. About 500 aircraft are based at Jeffco, including 35 corporate jets, which primarily use the 3,200-foot Runway 220, the longest of the airport’s three runways.
The airport had two shutdowns with which to cope last year. In late October, the FAA banned private planes from flying within an 11-mile radius of 86 nuclear plants and other facilities, including former nuclear bomb plant Rocky Flats, which sits within five miles of Jeffco. The closure affected about 400 airports around the country, but only Jeffco in this region.
“The airport lobbied really hard. We picked up and moved to Longmont so we could keep planes available to our customers,” said Gary Hulme, co-owner of McAir Aviation. The airport staff worked to negotiate with the FAA not only to open the airspace, but also to allow windows of opportunity for the flight schools to move aircraft.
That was a great example of good working relationships between businesses,” said Stover.
According to a recent survey by the National Business Travel Association, 65 percent of travel managers have seen an increase in demand for travel since January 2002. However, most respondents also predicted a nine to 12 month gap before corporate travel returns to normal levels.
“We’ve probably seen a 10 percent increase in business,” said Rich Bjelkevig of Mountain Aviation, the biggest air charter company at the airport. Bjelkevig reports that initially that increase was even higher due to the delays in traveling on commercial aircraft.
“What we provide, frankly, is time, which is valuable to a busy executive who is the president or CEO of a company,” said Bjelkevig.
According to Jack Riepe, of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, executives are starting to place a lot more value on their personal time. With security and other delays to commercial travel time, many companies are looking at charters as well as teleconferencing and other alternative means of communication, Riepe said.
“A lot of travel departments are reevaluating the reasons why they travel and what the return on a trip is going to be,” Riepe said.
Chris Culp, general manager of Denver Air, said that this has pushed the people that have the money and were on the fence about buying a jet over the edge.
However, Craig Colby, general manager of Stevens Aviation, thinks it will take more time for corporate customers to return to their buying habits.
“I think a lot of people are reluctant and holding off until things are back where they need to be,” said Colby.
Besides charter aircraft, the 35 jets based at Jeffco include corporate-owned jets for companies like Level 3, Leprino Foods and Paragon Ranch, leasing hangar space at the airport.
Mary Hammack, office manager for Windsong Aviation, which operates a flight school and maintenance shop, and provides aircraft sales, says that people are now using their own planes more.
“The flight schools are busy, especially as we get into the beautiful weather,” she said, adding that the shop has seen a steady maintenance schedule since the beginning of the year.
Gary Hulme of McAir Aviation, who acquired the company last year with partner John Wiltfang, said they have had a lot of growth. McAir, a certified Cessna Pilot Center, has seen its business triple in the past year.
Companies have also had to deal with rising insurance rates.
“I personally think there were some companies taking advantage of the situation,” said Arthur, who saw his insurance rates jump over 40 percent in October of 2001.
Stover said that the commercial industry along the US 36 corridor has enhanced the use of the airport for the better. The emergence of the local business environment over the past 20 years has been a boon to the airport, drawing business travelers as well as corporate hangars and other local businesses.
“With the development of Interlocken, Westmoor Technology Park, and the Promenade, there’s a higher interest in this airport,” Stover said. “We help each other in our markets.”
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, the airport creates an economic impact of 89.4 million dollars to the local economy, as well as contributing over 1,355 jobs directly or indirectly.
“The airport is growing economically, and we have the land to go with it. We have a high demand for development. It just comes down to smart, prudent development practices,” said Stover.
The airport is a self-supporting division of Jefferson County, with the majority of its funding coming from ground and building leases, FAA grants, and a percentage on fuel sales. There are also plans to continue developing over 60 acres of land around the airfield.
“We’re definitely growing with the local economy,” said Colby, who’s seen Stevens Aviation’s business grow by 10 to 15 percent per year in the past six years of serving corporate jets.
Stover has seen a lot of change during his time at the airport.
“We used to run outside when we saw one jet land,” he said.
Stover, 33, started at Jeffco as a summer maintenance helper in 1987. He invested years in learning the trade, first at Metropolitan State College, then in maintenance and operations. Later, he moved into the office to become the business manager and then assistant airport manager. He assumed the position of acting airport manager in January with the departure of Jeff Price, airport manager.
With 25 staff members, each with a different trade, running a 24-hour operation can be a challenge.
“When you take all those career paths and bring them together as one, you get a lot of different personalities,” he said. “You have to balance those personalities. Each person’s function is very important to them, as well as to the airport.”
Fortunately, he’s had years to build those relationships with staff members like Operations Manager Traci Plunkett and Brett Miller, administrative specialist, who celebrated 15 years at the airport this year.
Colby, who works closely with airport management to meet the county’s minimum standards, said that Stover is “very cognizant of involving tenants in issues and soliciting their opinions,” which creates a good environment.
“Those minimum standards they enforce also encourage the tenants here to maintain a higher level of service and quality product,” he said. “That working relationship builds a customer base and return business to the airport; everyone benefits.”
Stover says that the entire staff evaluates their work in terms of safety, efficiency and quality.
“We put those terms to all the work that we do in order to maintain our work ethic,” said Stover. “You also have to keep in mind your stakeholders. That’s your users, your community, and the adjoining cities.”
Stover has built relationships with dozens of entities, including the tenants, the FAA, and the neighborhoods around the airport. Of his connections to the community, he says it’s all about being a “good neighbor.”
Colby says Stover is a “very capable young man.”
“He has a very distinct background and a very real understanding of the environment in which we work,” Colby said. “With that experience comes his knowledge of the tenants’ needs here.”
Off the airport, Stover enjoys time with his wife and three children, as well as the occasional hunting and fishing trip. He’s also planning to finish a program with the American Association of Airport Executives to become a certified airport executive.
He hasn’t decided if he will apply to become the airport manager on a permanent basis. But, no matter the capacity, he says, the airport will remain in his future.
“I thoroughly enjoy aviation, and this is a fabulous airport,” he said. “Being a part of its potential, its growth, and its future is exciting to me.”
Besides, he says with a smile, “You won’t beat the sunsets from right here at this window. They light up that whole mountain sky.”