FAQ: Myths and Facts

Boulder Municipal Airport Myths and Facts

Myth: If we close the airport, we lose critical emergency services and put Boulder at risk.

Fact: The ballot initiatives would maintain Boulder’s helicopter emergency services including for fire, flood, and medical emergencies. Firefighting planes preferentially launch from larger nearby airports such as Rocky Mountain Metro Airport in Broomfield, which has a fire retardant dispensing station on site. The ballot initiatives do not specify the size or features of this emergency helicopter site; it would be designed to meet the needs identified by emergency professionals.

Myth: Closing the airport would cost the City of Boulder $100 million. 

Fact: City staff are conducting an analysis of what it would cost to close the airport. They will present their results in July. Early indications are that the costs will be much lower and will be vastly outweighed by the value to the city of regaining control of 179 acres of public land worth over $350 million. However, if we did have to pay the FAA $100 million to close the airport, that money would come from selling a portion of the site at market rate - likely about 1/3 of the land. It would not come out of the city budget, and we would still have 2/3 of the land to use how we wish. 

Myth: Most noise complaints are generated by the same few unhappy neighbors. 

Fact: Airport data indicate that noise complaints come from all over the city. According to our Director of Transportation in testimony to a Colorado state House Committee, in 2023, Boulder experienced over 30,000 aircraft flights over noise sensitive areas below requested altitudes, thousands of aircraft operations during noise sensitive hours, and over 1,000 noise complaints from community members and aircraft noise and pollution advocacy groups.  Many impacted neighbors report giving up on complaining due to the effort required and lack of responsiveness.

Myth: A recent local study proves that leaded aviation fuel is not a problem.

Fact: One cherry-picked study with flawed methodology does not overturn the decade-plus of research that went into the EPA’s October 2023 endangerment finding for leaded aviation fuel. Lead exposure has been a known human health hazard for generations and is especially harmful to child development. It lowers IQ, increases aggression and learning difficulties, and leads to other lifelong health impacts. Lead in gas for cars began to be phased out in 1973 and was banned completely by 1996. Lead in aviation fuel cannot be filtered from emissions and is released into the air upon burning. Children living near other general aviation airports have been shown to have blood lead levels similar to those found at the height of the Flint Michigan water crisis. There is no safe level of lead in blood.  

Myth: We don’t need to worry about leaded aviation fuel because unleaded fuel is coming. 

Fact: Current FAA plans to bring unleaded aviation fuel to general aviation airports stipulate that the use of such fuel is entirely voluntary. Unleaded fuel currently costs around $1.50 more per gallon and few pilots choose to buy it. The federal government has provided no plan or timeline to ban leaded fuel. The FAA demands that the City continue selling leaded aviation fuel unless and until they allow us to stop. Activists have been trying to ban leaded aviation fuel for decades, unsuccessfully, with many missed deadlines and broken promises by the federal government. 

Myth: Clean, quiet airplanes will soon replace older planes.

Fact: Like electric cars, electric planes have their challenges including charging time, range anxiety, infrastructure build-out, cost of replacing existing personal vehicles, and affection for classic, fossil fuel burning models. Electric planes are a good thing, but they are not necessarily quieter and will not be universally adopted any time soon.

Myth: BDU provides a protective bubble over Boulder's airspace. If we close BDU, we will be overrun with redirected air traffic. 

Fact: If you look at a time-lapse image of flight traffic in our region, the hotspots are clearly where airports exist. See image below which was provided by city staff. The bright yellow hotspots are Boulder airport (left), Rocky Mountain Metro Airport (bottom) and Erie airport (right). Air traffic away from airports is not nearly as bad or impactful as the existing hotspot created because we have public runways 3 miles from our downtown. You can even see a stream of traffic from RMMA coming to Boulder specifically to use our airport's runways for "touch and go" flight practice. There would be some redistribution of traffic when BDU closes, but we would not have the hotspot we currently have. Some have suggested that DIA would reroute jet traffic over Boulder. This would take place during periodic FAA realignment of routes nationwide and it would be a huge political deal. When it's been proposed in the past (and it has been proposed in the past, despite the fact that BDU exists), our Congressional representatives have been able to deflect it. 

Myth: We need to keep our airport for “the future of aviation.”

Fact: Signs point to the future of small aircraft being ones that take off and land vertically, similar to drones but sized for passengers, called VTOLs (Vertical Take-off and Landing aircraft). Like helicopters, VTOLs do not require airports or runways. They can utilize flat surfaces such as parking lots or flat rooftops.  

Myth: The housing built at the airport site won’t be affordable. 

Fact: Unlike private property, the city can require and ensure a high level of affordability on land that the city owns. Since the city owns the airport land, the city can build whatever the community wants at this site. The ballot initiative Runways to Neighborhoods requires at least 50% of on-site housing to be permanently affordable to low, moderate, and middle income residents. If the initiatives are passed by the voter, the city will be required to make it so.

Myth: We know that the community wants to keep the airport.

Fact: Existing public input on this topic has been skewed by heavy participation from statewide, national, and even international pilot and aviation groups. Pilots and aviation enthusiasts around the world are entitled to share their opinions about the future of our airport, but we should not conflate that voice with our local community. No representative survey has been done of Boulder residents. Taking the question to the ballot box is the best way to know what Boulder’s residents want.