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Durango airport in need of new hangar space for private planes

Increased population, changing demographics driving demand
Lawrence Tracy, with Southwest Steel, works on new airplane hangars Tuesday near the northeast end of Durango-La Plata County Airport. Anywhere from 15 to 20 hangars are expected to be built in coming years. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

A population boom and changing demographics may be driving demand for more hangar space for private aircraft at Durango-La Plata County Airport.

The crunch for hangar space has become so tight at DRO that the city of Durango put out a request for proposal in February seeking bids to build new hangars at the airport. The request for proposal was picked up by Asher Aviation Group LLC, a local company owned by Edward Asher who built three hangars at the airport last year.

Asher is a pilot and owner of Asher Custom Homes.

Aviation Director Tony Vicari said the airport commission usually takes development requests on a first-come, first-served basis, but significant demand for private airplane hangars forced the commission to put out an RFP to ensure the airport has enough land on the north side of the airport to meet demand.

DRO will lease the space to Asher, likely for 20 to 40 years, while the developer covers expenses to build the aircraft hangars. The development is going through an approval process, but it could bring 15 to 20 new hangars ranging in size – some 60 feet by 60 feet, others 100 feet by 100 feet.

Asher estimates the cost of the project will run $10 million to $12 million, but it could be more depending on whether private pilots make specific requests.

Three airplane hangars were built last year at Durango-La Plata County Airport. More hangars are needed for private planes. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“The more land we develop on the north end, the more leasable space the airport will benefit from,” Asher said.

He said he would also like to find a way to get fuel closer to the hangars to prevent fuel trucks from having to drive all the way from the south end of the airport to the north end to fuel private planes.

Construction on the hangars could begin as early as this summer or late fall, Vicari said.

Asher said increased wealth in Durango is driving the need for private airplane hangars at DRO. He said the number of people coming to Durango on small private planes has quadrupled in the last 4½ years.

The cost of homes has skyrocketed during that same time frame in Durango, he said.

Asher said when he initially bought Kogan Builders and transitioned it to Asher Custom Homes, one of the company’s most economically friendly homes cost $800,000. Now, it is $2.4 million.

“The number of wealthy people relocating to Durango or at least buying homes in Durango is substantial,” Asher said.

Vicari said there was a push to build more hangars during the early 2000s, but demand fell off dramatically amid the Great Recession. Demand has just recently reignited, he said.

Brenden Gallegos, with Southwest Steel, works on new airplane hangars Tuesday at Durango-La Plata County Airport. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Vicari speculates the rise in demand for hangar space is likely a result of increased population and a change in the area’s demographics post-COVID.

“It was sort of exaggerated and accelerated, post-pandemic,” he said.

Durango’s population is about 20,000 and trending upward, according to 2020 U.S. census data. By comparison, Durango’s population was about 14,000 in 2000 when the initial push to build more hangars began.

The average median household income in Durango is $76,177, up from $50,814 in 2000.

In 2010, 18.4% of households made $100,000 or more. But in 2020, 30.8% made $100,000 or more.

“I think as we saw post-pandemic, there were some changes in demographics,” Vicari said. “(There was) a lot of additional interest in people moving to Durango, both in terms of permanent residents and seasonal residents.”

The demand for additional hangar space at DRO appears to be following a national trend. Usage of private planes have increased on a national scale since the start of the pandemic.

Increased population and changing demographics are driving the need for new hangar space for private aircraft at Durango-La Plata County Airport. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The number of private aviation flights in the U.S. surged 20% after the beginning of the pandemic, according to a study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2022.

Asher said COVID-19 deterred people from flying commercially.

“Airplane values went up during COVID 20% to 30% across the board,” Asher said. “Everybody was buying airplanes, so they could travel on their own planes. That’s now manifesting itself in private traffic at Durango.”

The trend coincides with increased travel demand on domestic flights to and from DRO. Last year, United Airlines added two Airbus A319s to accommodate increasing load factors at the airport.

Last year was also the busiest year on record for airline passengers at DRO, with 431,828 passengers – an 8.7% increase over the previous record set in 2021.

New hangars could provide a space for larger private aircrafts.

“At the airport, we don’t have as much large-scale hangar infrastructure that’s been able to house medium- to larger-jet aircrafts,” Vicari said. “But this particular development proposal would create some of that medium- to larger-hangar space and fill a little bit of that market gap.”

tbrown@durangoherald.com



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