Airport expansion

Frequent flyers should be happy that Durango-La Plata County Airport is getting an expanded terminal area – even if a temporary one – as well as a second TSA security line. But the benefits of both will extend far beyond the airport itself or air travelers. Besides a welcome convenience, the airport is one of Southwest Colorado’s most important economic drivers.

The additional security line is critical mainly because the airlines have scheduled a number of flights at around the same times and the rush has resulted in long waits to get through security. That has meant passengers have had to arrive earlier and has caused some passengers to miss flights.

It would seem the easiest fix would be to get the airlines to reschedule some of their flights. But those times are also tied to the timing of other flights connecting at Denver, Phoenix and Dallas. It is not unlike the fact that the roads tend to be crowded before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

The new addition to the terminal is needed for much the same reason, as well as because of the overall increase in traffic at the airport. After travelers negotiate security, they have to be somewhere, and that area has to be reasonably comfortable and secure. A permanent and overdue expansion of the terminal is in the works, but the need is such that, in the meantime, the temporary addition is warranted.

The same is true of parking. The existing lots are simply inadequate for the volume of traffic, but permanent solutions take time and money.

The immediate effect of all this is to inconvenience travelers. In the long term, however, this is all part of a larger story that is good news for Durango and all of Southwest Colorado.

It has long been common in these parts to complain about the poor air service, limited number of flights and small aircraft serving Durango. And if one’s definition of good air service is cheap, hourly flights directly to wherever a traveler may want to go, that is true. This is not Dallas or Chicago.

But with connections to three major hubs, and through those to the world, the fact is Durango has far better air service than other communities of comparable size. And with the remarkable increase in traffic in recent years, that should only get better.

While tourism remains an important component, that increase is largely the result of two still-unfolding phenomena: the evolution of Durango-La Plata County Airport as the Four Corners’ true regional airport and Durango’s changing 21st century economy. Both are hopeful signs.

That Durango should be the regional airport is simple geography and demographics. Looking at the entire San Juan basin, the airport is at the center of the population. We might think of it as the Durango airport, but a lot of people from Cortez, Pagosa Springs and New Mexico use it as well.

Beyond that, this area’s economy now reflects the fact that an increasing number of people make their living in ways that allow them to live wherever they want – so long as they have Internet access and an airport. And with that, the importance of the airport to the local economy has grown exponentially.

Growing pains aside, the increasing traffic at Durango-La Plata County Airport is a solid indication of at least one sector’s healthy economic outlook. It also may suggest what our future holds.

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