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Airport panel OKs terminal pact but questions remote tower’s future

LOVELAND — Members of the Northern Colorado Regional Airport’s governing board endorsed spending money on a new terminal Thursday but voiced their mounting impatience over when — or if — the experimental remote control tower at the airport will ever get approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“I think we’re all getting tired of dating,” said commission chair Don Overcash. “We’d like to get married.”

The FAA has been planning and testing the virtual tower for several years and recently issued a stop-work order because of new visibility standards — three miles instead of two — and the issues surrounding the nation’s only other remote tower, which the FAA shut down in March in Leesburg, Virginia. The FAA recently extended the stop-work order by six months in Loveland while Nepean, Ontario-based contractor Searidge Technologies installed new cameras and technology to meet the extended visibility rules. 

The tower in Leesburg was developed by private company Saab Inc., while the tower in Loveland was commissioned by the FAA and the Colorado Department of Transportation. Their control over its operation has led airport director Jason Licon to believe that the remote tower eventually will be a success.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, both D-Colo., have all expressed support for the tower, but some commissioners on Thursday voiced frustration that the FAA has no deadline to certify it.

“How do we get more clarity out of the FAA,” asked commissioner Jerry Stooksbury. “We can continue to wait, or we can say at the end of a six-month period that this is not moving forward. This seems like rope-a-dope.”

Commissioner Jeni Arndt, Fort Collins’ mayor, asked when the airport would reach a “breaking point” on the tower. Responding to other commissioners’ fears that the panel’s reluctance to support the tower would jeopardize support for it, Arndt shot back, “I don’t care.

“This is our airport,” she said. “That’s a very coercive move on their part to say if you’re not going to wait for us to make a decision” the feds would withdraw backing. “This is our taxpayer-funded dollars,” she said. “This is our regional development.”

Overcash cautioned, however, that “we do have to care about our partners,” and Licon noted that if commissioners scrap the remote-tower plan, the process of funding, designing and building a traditional control tower could take three to five years.

With commissioner Tom Fleming absent, the panel voted 4-2 to support approval of a contract with Greeley-based Hensel Phelps Construction to build a 19,400-square-foot, two-gate terminal at the airport in hopes of luring the return of scheduled passenger service. However, Stooksbury and Arndt voted no, with Arndt declaring that more money should be spent on safety instead of on “a commercial terminal where we don’t have commercial service” and Stooksbury objecting to “spending 100% of the CARES Act money on one thing.”

The Loveland City Council, on which Overcash serves as mayor pro tem, will consider final approval of the contract in June.

The $22 million terminal would be paid for with $16.9 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars, plus $2 million from the airport’s budget, $1.6 million from an FAA grant and $1 million each from the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, who jointly own the airport. 

Licon has pushed for speedy approval of the terminal, contending that the CARES Act funding needs to be spent by July 2024. However, during the public comment period, attorney Caitlin McHugh of Denver-based law firm Lewis Rocha contended that, according to, that deadline applies only to 15%, or $2.34 million, of the CARES Act funding, and that the earliest deadline by which any yet-unspent grant funds must be spent would be April 2025.

Owners of private aircraft housed at the airport have said it should spend more money on safe hangar space to support general aviation. Up to 47 owners were threatened with eviction after the commission emerged from a March 2 executive session to call for the decommissioning of four hangars for safety reasons.

Licon said Thursday that several of the owners had built their own hangars, that others had been moved from the condemned “A” and “B” hangar buildings to the “C” hangars where two vacancies exist, and that 28 are on the airport’s waiting list. The leases for the C buildings, which also had been targeted for demolition, remain on a month-to-month basis, but a final report on those two buildings’ safety would be received in time for the commission’s June meeting and that the Oct. 10 eviction date for C-hangar tenants could be abolished depending on what the report reveals.

Source: BizWest