Garfield County’s ‘Air Fair’ starts Friday |

Garfield County’s ‘Air Fair’ starts Friday

John ColsonPost Independent staffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent file photo

A huge fireball in the air, paratroopers descending from the sky, rides in a classic World War II bomber or a helicopter and a chance to see what it’s like to drive a NASCAR racing car are among the thrills awaiting attendees of the 2009 Garfield County Air Fair this weekend.Scheduled for Friday evening and Saturday at the Garfield County Airport, this will be the fifth annual air show put on for free by Garfield County.Brian Condie, airport director, said that attendance at the Air Fair has been growing steadily, from the 3,000 or so who came to the events in the first year to the 15,000 who attended in 2008, the fourth year of the event.And just as attendance has grown, so has the annual budget, which Condie said stood at $25,000 for the first year, in 2005, where “this year’s show is $198,000.”According to Condie, who has been on the job since 2002, the Air Fair is one part of a broad marketing plan for the airport, both national and local.Because the airport is for general aviation traffic only (no commercial airlines), Condie said, the marketing plan is aimed at establishing “name recognition” among area residents, as a way to help them “realize the benefits of having an airport in our backyard.”He said locals have come up with a variety of innovative ways to use the airport’s facilities, ranging from Rifle High School holding its prom dances in the hangar, to a Rifle Chamber of Commerce “hangar dance” in 2004 – not to mention the numbers of area ranchers and other individuals who own their own planes.In terms of air traffic operations, the airport generally sees about 24,000 “operations” (landings or takeoffs) per year, of which the oil and gas industry is responsible for less than 2 percent. Mostly, Condie said, the traffic is in private jets and propeller planes, whether corporate or privately owned.The airport can handle large jets up to the 727 or 737 range, he said.Condie explained that the airport probably never will switch to commercial airline traffic, because the airlines generally prefer that commercial airports be separated by at least three and a half hours of drive-time. He noted that Grand Junction, Aspen and Eagle all have airports within less than two hours’ drive-time from Rifle.And since the airport typically requires as much as $500,000 in county funds, and frequently operates in the red, he mused, “Everybody always asks, ‘Why keep the airport open?'”In explanation, he pointed to a report showing that the airport generates $45.6 million in economic impact to the county, much of it in the form of wages of employees of the county, the air service operators and other ancillary operations at the airport itself. Condie also described $33 million in improvements to the facilities, 95 percent of which is being paid by the Federal Aviation Administration.While entry and parking at the Air Fair are free, as are the main events, there are some offerings that have a price tag attached, such as a ride in a B-25 bomber ($350 per passenger, up to seven passengers per flight) or a ride in a smaller Cessna for $149 (it fits up to three passengers, who can split the cost of the ride.)And there will be numerous food booths to keep the crowds from getting hungry, which also will not be free.Condie said that Friday’s events will feature the entire show, instead of just part of it as in years past, and the whole show will be repeated on Saturday.That will mean aerobatic planes; a special “jet truck” – a Peterbilt tractor powered by three jet engines – to dazzle the audience; the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army’s parachuting team; and the “Wall of Fire” pyrotechnics display; as well as displays of vintage aircraft from the 1930s and 1940s.For young Air Fair fans, the main hangar will be stuffed with activities, from a climbing wall to mechanical calf roping, from taking a turn in a flight simulator to visiting with Smokey Bear, who turns 65 this year.The Air Fair will be open from 1-11 p.m. on Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. on Saturday.Fly-bys and aerial performances will be Friday, from around 2-4 p.m., and from 5:30-9:30 in the evening, as well as Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.To get to the airport, go to exit 94 on I-70, between Silt and Rifle, and follow the

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