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PLANE TRUTH

OPPONENTS OF JEFFCO PASSENGER SERVICE ARE FLYING BLIND.

The problem, as Gregg Greenstein sees it, is fourfold: It's too noisy and it will lower property values. And along the way, he adds, the environment will suffer. So will education.

The quality-of-life scourge that Greenstein, a Westminster lawyer, is talking about is the prospect of commercial passenger flights at Jefferson County Airport, which occupies 1,800 acres west of the Boulder Turnpike.

Recently, Greenstein and several others formed Citizens for General Aviation. Its goal is to fight any plan that would allow regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights into Jeffco's airport. Now the facility permits only cargo and corporate flights.

"I didn't move next to a commercial airport," complains Fred Seitzman, an optician who lives in Rock Creek and a founder of the group. "We're concerned about changing the identity and character of the airport."

The group's members have complained loudly at informational meetings hosted by county officials. The Jefferson County Airport Authority has been so swamped with questions and complaints that it has hired a public-relations specialist to handle the traffic.

In fact, the only thing Citizens for General Aviation hasn't done is find a legitimate argument why the proposed commercial flights at Jeffco's airport would ruin their quality of life. That's because there isn't one.

The spark for the airport conflagration was Texas entrepreneur John Andrews. Last month he announced his interest in starting regularly scheduled passenger service out of Jeffco, which Andrews turned to because his plan was rejected by Centennial Airport in Arapahoe County. He has said that he anticipates flying approximately twenty flights a week out of Jeffco, or just over 1,000 per year.

Although Citizens for General Aviation have made much ado about that increase, there are several reasons why it amounts to almost nothing. The airport now has about 150,000 operations per year. So Andrews's proposed airline would increase traffic at the facility by a non-whopping one-half of one percent.

Moreover, if it's been quiet around the Jeffco airport recently, that's only because residents who live there have been enjoying a brief--and temporary--respite from the air traffic the facility was designed to handle and which it has handled in the past.

In 1977 the airport authority recorded nearly 250,000 takeoffs and landings. Since then, thanks to deregulation (which made it cheaper to fly commercial) and high fuel prices, that number has dropped steadily, to a low of only 143,000 operations in 1990. (It rose slightly last year.)

Even if the airport's neighbors succeed in blocking passenger service, chances are they'll soon be disappointed anyway. The skies over their houses are scheduled to become much busier.

Renee Reinhart, a spokeswoman for the airport, says the Jefferson County Airport Authority is aggressively marketing the faci-lity as a stopover for corporate jets. Those efforts--coupled with the opening of DIA, which discourages general-aviation flights from landing there--have been remarkably successful. In recent months both Coors and Public Service Company have moved their corporate fleets to Jefferson County.

The high-flying marketing campaign, as well as population growth along the Front Range, means that John Andrews or no, Jefferson County's airport is poised to take off. According to the 1987 "Twenty-Year Master Plan for Jefferson County Airport," traffic will increase to an estimated 208,000 operations in 1997 and to nearly 290,000 in 2007.

That number, nearly double the current traffic flow, doesn't include scheduled commercial passenger service. Says Reinhart, "We're just steadily growing."

Whether the increase will mean more noise and thus lowered property values is open to debate, too. While Greenstein and others insist that the worth of their homes will plunge, other real estate brokers point out that property values have never followed fluctuations in the traffic overhead.

"I've been sitting here for thirty years, and I haven't noticed any difference," says Rik Hansen, a broker who works the airport area. "If air traffic really had an effect on real estate, property values around Stapleton ought to be soaring now." Nor, adds Hansen, has he noticed a difference in the amount of noise from overhead planes in the past twenty years, even though the number once was 66 percent higher than it is now.

If airplane noise won't affect housing prices, then it's unlikely to put a crimp in local education, either, as Citizens for General Aviation claim. Jon Donaldson has worked at Standley Lake High School since it opened just south of the Jefferson County Airport eight years ago. Now principal, he says he doesn't even notice the overhead traffic.

"I've never heard a parent or teacher or kid ever bring it up," he says. "It's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned." In fact, Donaldson adds that the administrative offices on the north side of the high school are popular with faculty because they offer a clear view of the planes taking off and landing. "It's kind of nice," he says.

Finally, Citizens for General Aviation say they fear more than just an increase in the volume of air traffic over their homes. "We're concerned about setting a precedent," says Seitzman. "Once you allow scheduled passenger service in there, it grows. Pretty soon we'll have 737s flying in and out."

That's unlikely. In order for the airport to accommodate flights carrying more than thirty passengers, it must first petition the Federal Aviation Administration for a special permit. Last month both the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners and the airport authority explicitly stated in written documents that they had no intention of doing that.

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