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New signage on County Road 140 will soon designate ‘Salida Airport – Harriet Alexander Field.’

Zechariah Papp, who has been Salida Airport Manager for four years, has a goal of looking to the future and doing what needs to be done for enhancing this community resource.

Harriet Alexander Field has expanded services during that time, and Papp sees an opportunity to expand the current taxiway. He hopes the City of Salida and Chaffee County leaders will embrace his vision for the airport as a vital business for the Arkansas River Valley.

Papp took over from long-time manager Carl Hasselbrink in 2015, and said in his tenure he’s ‘just doing the best I can.”

“When I started, it was just ‘let’s get everything fixed, get everything flying and let’s look forward to the future and what we can do for growth,’” he remembers.

Airport manager Zechariah Papp indicates areas of the potential expansion of the Salida Airport, especially after federal funding is secured for an expansion of the shorter taxiway at the field.

Initially, he spent $16,000 for a fuel farm, another $16,000 on deer fencing for safety and had 11 hangars built on the airport property. His first year, he managed an update of the airport master plan and on the ground, did a complete reseal and re-striping of the asphalt across the whole airport.

Improvements to a taxiway and additional help are priorities now. The airport can’t add more hangars until more taxiway is added.

“We’re pretty much to the point where I’ve got two spots left for hangars, and I’ve got guys looking at those already, so we’re pretty much fully developed right now — until we get that taxiway,” he said.

Gliders from across the state visited Harriet Alexander Field last week. (Photos by Dan Smith)

An extension of the current short taxiway will take federal, state, and local funding. Some of that funding is complex since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) money for higher altitude airports is part of a formula that requires planning and collaboration.

Each of the 74 airports in Colorado receives $150,000 in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. Since that amount doesn’t go very far with airport-size projects. Harriet Alexander Field and three other airports, including Buena Vista, work under a grant sharing agreement. One facility gets the funding allocation from the four recipients, about $600,000 for its project needs annually.

In 2020, it’s Salida’s turn. Colorado Department of Transportation funding is also included in the grants, and 5 percent or about $30,000 comes from local city/county contributions.

Papp has applied for a $7.5 million supplemental FAA grant to extend the current taxiway, which now runs only halfway down the length of the runway. He wants to go all the way to the east, with sub-taxiways for future hangars and taxiway lighting instead of the current reflectors in use.

The airport didn’t get the grant in the first rounds of funding. Papp wants to use some of the grant sharing money to perform the necessary design, engineering and environmental assessment work for the taxiway extension and rehab. With that done, says Papp, when FAA funding becomes available, construction work can proceed with little delay.

Aircraft using the field’s main east-west runway, which lies at an altitude of 7,248 feet, would spend less time taxiing on that runway. That time spent taxiing is a safety concern.

Once the taxiway is extended, then land to the south could be used to build additional hangars.

As with the county in general, the airport has experienced increased usage growth. Papp has seen that fuel sales double over the past four years, and air traffic has nearly doubled as well.

The field has two 12,000-gallon underground fuel tanks and has fuel available 24-7. Papp purchased a jet fuel truck in 2017 for larger aircraft who can’t taxi over to the fuel farm and get their own. One of the first customers was a Chinook helicopter then helping fight the large Hayden Pass wildfire near Coaldale.

Another fuel truck purchase was made last year. Now the airport has self-serve and full-service fueling capability, which Papp says is vital to its viability.

Another item on Papp’s radar is the airport’s now-underground fuel tanks. The FAA and CDOT are trying to move completely away from underground storage tanks and leak risks. Eventually, they will require those tanks to be replaced with above-ground tanks.

The current airport budget is just over $400,000. Papp would like to see the city of Salida and Chaffee County, making it more of a priority, maintaining and expanding the community resource it represents.

Users, he says, look for services. “Do you have fuel? Do you have cars?” (the airport has two serviceable courtesy vehicles available for pilots and passengers to drive into town).

Glider pilot Colin Barry, of Boulder, with his German-built glider. One of 10 soaring enthusiasts who recently visited Harriet Alexander Field for a week of soaring in the late-summer conditions.

The economic impact of the airport may be harder to gauge than other in-town venues that measure financial gains from events, says Papp. There is no accurate way to assess the economic impact from the people who fly into Salida and then spend money as tourists in the area as well as on airport services. There aren’t figures on the incremental economic gain from events such as the Salida Airport Summer Fly-in, or the air shows, he added. But he knows there is an impact.

Last week, 10 glider pilots, some from the Boulder Soaring Club, brought their long-winged aircraft to Harriet Alexander Field for flying adventures.

One pilot, Colin Barry, with his German-built Discus 2B aircraft, spoke with Ark Valley Voice about how much he and the other pilots enjoyed soaring over the area.

“The mountains, of course, are so beautiful,” he said, and the pilots like flying out of Salida.

Barry said pilots who catch the right air currents can stay aloft for six or seven hours. He has flown as far as New Mexico before returning to the field for landing. He said he’s had only one instance when he made an unplanned landing in a field.

The modern glider also has the latest technology. Barry’s plane had a compact instrument panel that provided the basics. Including altitude, airspeed and radio, but also GPS, the ability to detect other aircraft nearby, show the location of airports, and an advanced oxygen system balanced to the pilot’s breathing. Just in case, there’s also a parachute.

Papp says the airport is an expanding community resource. There are currently approximately 40 aircraft based at the field. It’s a regular stop for UPS flights, five days per week, sometimes more frequently. It’s a fueling station for aircraft fighting fires as well as medical flights, including the REACH helicopter based at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center.

The air charter service, Colorado by Air, uses the field. Since the area is designated for military training, the airport sees frequent military activity.  Five Blackhawk helicopters recently came in for fuel.

The airport is an economic hub that Papp says offers an excellent opportunity for Salida and the county. “My goal is to eventually develop this area with an executive hangar, a large hangar for large aircraft, and maybe a new terminal building, that kind of thing,” added Papp.