Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Tax-free zone could lift Colorado Springs Airport

By Ned Hunter Updated: March 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm

The owner of Rampart Aviation could bring 60 jobs to the Colorado Springs Airport this year.

Or he could take those jobs to the Pueblo Airport, or Centennial Airport in Denver or a number of other airports throughout the country.

On Monday, Rampart owner Tony Porterfield stood between the wings of the WWII B-25 Mitchell bomber and a Grumman Avenger fighter plane inside the city's National Museum of World War II Aviation, telling his audience that whether he moves those jobs to the Springs Airport will depend largely on the City Council's decision to create, or not create, a Commercial Aeronautical Zone around the airport.

The zone would eliminate all city sales and use taxes on airplanes, aviation equipment, supplies, tools and other items used to maintain, service and rebuild or repair general aviation aircraft.

Porterfield came to Colorado Springs with the Army in 1997. He moved his first company, NEK Advanced Securities Group, to the Springs from New Mexico in 2006. Porterfield started Rampart Aviation outside Raleigh, N.C., in 2008.

Now, he wants to bring his company home instead of operating it from 2,000 miles away. But other airports are competing for Porterfield's company, which performs oil exploration and military flight services.

"I live here. It's my home," Porterfield said. "But just because I live here doesn't mean I can bring my business here if it doesn't make financial sense."

Porterfield's thoughts were echoed by Britt Ham, president and chief executive officer of Trine Aerospace & Defense Co.

Trine is an aircraft engineering and modification subcontractor for Boeing, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Communications, and others. The company rents 35,000 square feet of hangar and office space inside the Colorado Springs Business Air Park off Taxi Way.

Trine officials want to add 80 to 100 employees who would work in a 60,000-square-foot building that the company wants to construct on the airport's west side.

Creating the tax-free zone around the airport would help Trine accomplish that goal by saving them a significant amount just in the first year. Ham said eliminating the city's sales and use tax around the airport would help Trine "become serious about the expansion."

"The extra space will enable them to expand their current business and fulfill their goal of building a new, world-class Fixed Base Operator on the airport," wrote Roy Clenna, who heads the investor group that brought Trine to Colorado Springs. A Fixed Based Operator provides fuel, maintenance and other services to aircraft.

Colorado Springs is one of few cities left in the nation that charges a sales and use tax at its midsize airport, city aviation officials have said. The tax has been on the books quite a while, but the city only began to enforce it in 2009, said Dick Janitell, who operates the J.H.W. hangar complex that houses and stores aircraft. He said the city's sudden enforcement drove away 20 percent of his hangar business when pilots began to store their aircraft elsewhere.

"We lost a flight school, and avionics shop and two maintenance shops," he said. "In all, we lost around $190,000 in rents from 2010 to 2012."

City Council President Keith King hopes he can attract some of those lost businesses as well as new businesses to the Springs as he works to persuade council members to pass an ordinance to create the airport's tax-free zone. King introduced the proposal to council members at their informal meeting Monday. A final vote on the measure could come in early April.

"This (ordinance) will make us competitive again," King said, "and give us the opportunity to do something with airport that we have not been able to do."

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