The Cortez Municipal Airport is a one-man operation.
Russ Machen is that guy and he has worked for the city of Cortez for 32 years, the past 20 as the airport manager.
No matter what the job plowing snow, manning the snow blower or lawnmower, wildlife management or working on the parking area, Machen is the guy.
Back when Machen took over the airport maintenance position, the airport management fell under the city managers duties. But after he resigned in 1991, Machen began taking on more responsibilities.
It was baptism by fire, Machen said. We didnt have a city manager for six months so anything that come down the pipe, Youre the airport guy, you can handle it.
Little by little, Machen found himself with more duties.
Machen said the airport is a valuable asset for the community, but its hit some economic turbulence recently.
Economically, 2011 business was down, Machen said.Our fixed base operator Cortez Flying Service sold 141,000 gallons of fuel in 2011. In 07, our benchmark year, they sold 219,000 gallons.
A fixed base operator provides fuel and service for planes that use the Cortez airport. Bill Moore has owned and operated CFS since 1971. He said its becoming harder to find such service at smaller airports.
We fuel the planes and service the planes. We do maintenance for Great Lakes on an on-call basis. You might have trouble finding that these days. Most dont have it.
Machen said 2007 was also a high mark for passengers flying out of Cortez, with more than 11,000 people using the airport for commercial flights.
In 2010 we had about 7,000 and in 2011 we had 7,600, so things started to do an uptick on passenger boards.
With steady but modest numbers of airline travelers, the airport depends heavily on state and federal funds to maintain operations. The Essential Aviation Service grant is a federal subsidy that helps keep commercial airlines in rural communities. In Cortez, Great Lakes Airlines has provided commercial air service to and from Denver for the past 10 years.
They drive everything, Machen said. Theyre the biggest revenue source when you combine their landing fees and billing rent, and theres a passenger facility charge, which we allow to tax the passengers, and then we get that back to provide for infrastructure.
He said the recent four-year Federal Aviation Administration bill that passed secured funds for future projects. The airport may consider acquiring property to accommodate an instrument landing approach to help pilots land in inclement weather.
Right now were on a visual approach only, so when we have snow coming down we cant land an airplane and theyve got to wait for the road to clear, Machen said.
He also said the FAA requires frequent and costly upgrades.
Federal grants help pay for 95 percent of those costs, but before the bill passed there had been 23 extensions since 2008, Machen said.
Its a big deal that we have a four-year funding from the FAA, he said.
According to a news release from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennets (D-Colo.), the bill can help boost economies.
Finally Congress has come together on a bill that will clear the way for critical construction projects and allow for long term construction plans, reduce delays for travelers, improve safety and access to air travel, and provide a huge economic boost for Colorados airports and their surrounding communities, Bennet said.
For now, the airport receives about $150,000 annually in grants based on the number of travelers that use the airport. If travelers surpass the 10,000 mark, grant funding would jump to $1 million.
You can do a lot with a million dollars, Machen said. He said lengthening the runway is another plan, but until passenger boardings increase that plan will remain on the drawing board.
State grants have helped pay for equipment like a snowplow, front-end loader, snowblower, lawnmower and more.
Great Lakes Airlines offers three round-trip flights to Denver, Monday through Friday and two on Saturday and Sunday.
It gives us a link to Denver, where you can go anywhere, Machen said. I think its essential in this day and age to maintain a commercial service connection, because without it, your economy suffers.
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