Don’t we need the airport for emergency uses?

BDU does not significantly contribute to emergency support operations beyond helicopters. Fire-fighting planes do not use BDU. The Repurpose Our Runways ballot initiative allows a helicopter staging area to remain at the site for emergency use only, including fire, flood, and medical emergencies. Rocky Mountain Metro Airport in Broomfield, which is 13 miles from the center of Boulder, is the hub for fire-fighting planes in our local area.

BDU’s runways are not long enough for safe use by modern fire-fighting planes. The runways cannot be lengthened since there is a lake at one end and a steep drop-off and protected farmers' ditch at the other. The only significant emergency use at the Boulder airport is as a staging area for emergency helicopters, such as those used for helicopter evacuation of stranded people and pets during the 2013 flood event. 

Boulder Airport Manager, John Kinney, told Boulder City Council on January 12, 2023, that planes that carry fire retardant are generally too big to use the Boulder Airport’s runways, and instead use Rocky Mountain Metro Airport in Broomfield that has a fire retardant dispensing and mixing station. As described in a Boulder Reporting Lab article from July 17, 2023, “air tankers, which are planes that carry suppressant to put out fires, are based at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. [The City of Boulder’s wildland fire division chief, Brian] Oliver said the Boulder airport is useful for helicopters when fighting wildfires, but not necessary.”

In 2023, the City of Boulder developed four potential scenarios for the future of the airport site as part of the Airport Community Conversation.  Only one of these four scenarios calls for closing the airport.  This scenario, Scenario 4 “Decommission the Airport and Create New Neighborhood”, specifically states that “A portion of land would be set aside for helicopter emergency services that would support resiliency of the region” and describes that a “landing area for emergency support services” will remain on the site after redevelopment as a neighborhood. 

The upshot is good news: the City of Boulder will have helicopter emergency support no matter what happens at the airport site.