The top-flight locals behind Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport
The Sopris Sun
Editor’s note: This story is being republished with permission from the Sopris Sun, Carbondale’s nonprofit community newspaper.
Aviation has always been a part of Amy Helm’s life. And now that she’s added airport manager to her job titles at the Glenwood Municipal Airport (she also works as a plane mechanic at Aircraft Repair, LLC, which operates out of the airport), she’s focused on making sure everyone in the Roaring Fork Valley can enjoy that same level of accessibility to her passion.
“I’ve been super motivated,” Helm said. Last year, the airport hosted its first Community Aviation Expo. “That was such a huge success, and it was a lot of fun. We gave over 150 airplane rides.” Additionally, she’s been redeveloping the website, complete with webcams, and getting a social media presence going for the airport.
When not overseeing the airport’s operations, Helm is either piloting her own plane — a Cessna 175 — or working on one.
“Our bread and butter service here is the maintenance facility,” she said. “They service over 100 aircrafts and helicopters a year, doing rebuilds, restoration [and] engine modifications. They — we — do a lot.” One reason for that? They’ve cornered the market, Helm said. “It’s one of the only airports around that actually works on small airplanes. Aspen, Eagle, Rifle… they cater more to jets. Here, we cater to aviation pilots.”
One of the better-known aircrafts that the crew works on is the area’s Emergency Medical Services helicopter, operated by Classic Air Medical. “They’re based out of Valley View Hospital, but their hangar is here. They fly it back here to refuel or get the maintenance done,” she said.
A municipal airport — its runway is too short to accommodate commercial planes — isn’t an obvious community partner, but Helm is working to change that perception. Last year’s Expo was a start. She’s already in the early planning stages for this year’s event, which will likely be in August. And the summer is also skydiving season, which helps bring in tourists. Helm is happy to act as a liaison between visitors and the Valley.
“There’s a couple hotels in town that offer pilots discounts. We can direct all our tourists to them. We want people to help us out, but we want to be able to promote all these awesome businesses,” she said.
That kind of symbiosis is reflected in the airport operations, as well. Volunteers often work on improvement projects, and the entity partners with complementary businesses to offer the maintenance services, skydiving, scenic tours, charter flights and even training.
“We’re based in Eagle, but 100 percent of our maintenance is done in Glenwood Springs,” Alpine Flight President Loren French said. Alpine Flight is one of the aforementioned partners that offers myriad ways to enjoy aviation in the Valley. That means French gets to interact with people of all experience levels, he said. In the flight school, he sees first timers and experienced pilots alike, the latter of which often need to fine tune their skills to safely accommodate mountainous terrain.
“Whatever their reason is, we teach them how to fly,” he said, noting that though his operation is based in Eagle, he’s trained at the Glenwood Airport often. “We have a rich area because a student can learn in Eagle with traffic and then can go right over the hill and train on a shorter runway and landing at Glenwood. It’s that variety of experience — I still believe we have one of the best trainings available [because of that].”
Partnering with a flight school is particularly near to Helm’s heart, as she hopes to one day partner with local high schools to create work-study programs — after all, she got her piloting license while still a student.
“I think there’s a huge demand for pilots and mechanics in this day and age,” she said, though she also said she doesn’t see a lot of interest in the field from younger people. “There’s going to be a shortage in this next generational gap. If we can help bridge that gap some way, we’re here.”
For Helm, aviation is personal. “My dad is a private pilot,” the Carbondale native said. “We would go flying Saturday mornings — just hop in the plane, visit family. I fell in love with aviation at a young age.” That love later sparked her career, which includes a four-year stint flying in Alaska’s backcountry before returning home. “My whole family still lives in Carbondale and [I] kind of missed the sunshine,” she said.
Now, part of her job is balancing planning for the future and maintaining a sort of nostalgic past, she said. “I think airports just aren’t as accessible as they used to be. This airport doesn’t have a fence around it, so you’ll see people walking their dogs or riding their bikes — not when there’s aircraft, obviously,” she said of the Glenwood Airport, one of the oldest in the country. “But most airports nowadays have fences around them [and] huge TSA security. That and it’s way more expensive than it used to be.”
French, too, has fond memories of the municipal airport. “I learned to fly up here between the Glenwood and Eagle airports. I did those lessons 22 years ago in 1996. Even as I was learning as a brand new student pilot, I was flying in and out of Glenwood,” he said.
Today, he enjoys sharing some of the area’s history with his charter and tour passengers. “We’re not just a flight school — that’s one of our things,” he said. “In addition to our training, we also do air tours, which is exactly what it sounds like. We take them up, show them around, give them a little history. Tell them stories of Doc Holliday and things like that.”
Of course, one of the obvious draws to taking to the skies is the scenery. “Sopris at sunrise is an otherworldly experience,” French said. “No matter how many times I’ve gone up, everyday the mountains have something new to show you.”
Helm wants to ensure that the airport’s future is as rich as its history and that more people get those aerial perspectives.
“I want to focus more on community events here at the airport. Let people know that we’re here, and we want to teach you to fly; teach you to work on a plane; have you come out and go for a ride,” she said.