The general aviation airport, dating back to 1928, covers more than 179 acres northeast of the city. Some want it revamped. Others want it closed and redeveloped for housing. Credit: John Herrick

Boulder residents will help decide in the coming weeks whether they want to revamp the Boulder Municipal Airport, a relatively small and aging facility, or potentially shut it down. 

The city is hosting a town hall on July 18 to gather feedback from residents on a spectrum of scenarios for the future of the airport: Leave it as is, upgrade certain facilities, or turn it into a gathering spot with a community center, cafe and other amenities. The most dramatic option would be to demolish the airport and develop housing on the site.

The town hall is part of a monthslong community engagement process the city hopes may help inform the creation of a new Airport Master Plan, a long-range planning document last updated in 2007. 

Given that the city is surrounded by open space and has relatively strict regulations on housing density, such large tracts of city-owned land are rare opportunities to increase housing supply and drive down costs, advocates say. 

“This is a once-in-a-generation — or maybe once-in-forever — opportunity for Boulder to build some middle-income housing that is so difficult to build elsewhere in Boulder,” Laura Kaplan, a member of the city’s Planning Board, told Boulder Reporting Lab. 

Airport grapples with noise and air pollution

The Boulder Municipal Airport, which first opened as a dirt runway in 1928, is located northeast of town. About 170 aircraft are based there — fixed-wing planes, gliders and helicopters. It’s used primarily by private pilots, people training to become pilots, or those who fly glider planes as a hobby. As a public airport, anyone can land or take off there without special permission. It doesn’t accommodate commercial flights. 

Last year, the airport saw more than 60,000 annual operations, which include take-offs and landings, according to city records. Current operations are below a peak of about 70,000 per year in 2008. 

Andrew McKenna is president of Journeys Aviation, which operates fixed-wing and glider pilot schools at the airport. The company also serves as the airport’s “fixed-base operator,” selling gas to pilots, tying down planes on the landing strip, and renting out hangar space. 

McKenna has based his business at the airport since 2018. “We’re doing it because we love airplanes. We love flight. And we’re trying to share it with the community,” he said.

He wants the airport to stay mostly as is. He opposes repurposing it for housing and believes there are better places in Boulder for building new homes that would encounter fewer issues.

Over the years, he’s watched residential housing creep closer to the airport. A multifamily housing project is underway near Arapahoe and 55th, about two miles south of the airport. And more housing is anticipated under the recently approved East Boulder Subcommunity Plan.  

Airport operations are inherently noisy. And with more housing in the area, McKenna said he expects more complaints from future neighbors. Such complaints are already common. From May 2022 to April 2023, residents filed 1,054 complaints related to the airport’s operations, according to city officials. That’s an average of about 88 per month. 

McKenna said there’s only so much he can do when it comes to noise. The city has developed a voluntary noise abatement map to guide pilots on suitable flying times and areas. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which supports the city’s upkeep of the airport through grants, prohibits general aviation airports from imposing noise restrictions. 

But noise isn’t the only issue raised by neighbors that McKenna knows needs addressing.

The airport sells leaded fuel. Aircraft are the largest source of lead emissions in the air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And even low levels of lead in blood can “negatively affect a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“[The airport] has taken away people’s ability to enjoy their homes,” said Bri Lehman, a Lafayette resident and member of the Save Our Skies Alliance, a group of residents across the Front Range that watchdogs airport issues. Lehman said she’s not “anti-aviation.” But she said the city’s residents should at least consider closing the airport and building homes there instead. “I think it’s more of a liability than an asset to the city.”

McKenna said he plans to begin selling unleaded fuel in the next two years. He’s been waiting for a mix that works with older aircraft. And he wants the city to subsidize the cost. Separately, he said, he recently purchased two lightweight aircraft made by Pipistrel for his training fleet. The aircraft should make less noise than the older Cessna planes. Eventually, he said, he would like to have electric planes as well. 

Such upgrades might help address noise and air pollution concerns from neighbors. But it won’t curb the long-standing desire among some residents to close the airport and build much-needed housing. 

About 170 aircraft are based at the Boulder Municipal Airport. Credit: John Herrick

Calls for ‘a neighborhood from the ground up’

Earlier this year, the city hired Kimley-Horn, a consulting firm with offices in Broomfield, and formed a working group to advise the city as it decided whether to update the Airport Master Plan. 

Some members of the group — including those who also serve on the city’s Housing Advisory Board and Planning Board — have since pushed to make redeveloping the airport as a site for housing a more central part of the city’s airport conversation. 

This idea is not new. 

In 2019, Councilmember Mark Wallach campaigned on closing the airport as a core part of his housing platform. Meanwhile, the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, the city’s long-term planning document, states that when the Airport Master Plan is updated, “the city will work with the community to reassess the potential for developing a portion of the airport for housing and neighborhood-serving uses.” 

“This community working group has the potential to be a gatekeeper and say, ‘yes, we’re going to further explore housing,’” Kaplan of the Planning Board said, “or shut that door and lock us into an airport for the next couple of generations through this Airport Master Plan.”

Kaplan estimates repurposing the 179-acre site could result in more than 2,000 housing units, making it one of the largest potential housing developments in the city. Moreover, because Boulder owns the land, it would be able to require a developer to build as much affordable housing as the city wants. 

Kaplan said the site is an opportunity to “design a neighborhood from the ground up with the most modern principles” for affordability, as well multi-modal transportation — transit, bike paths, walkable neighborhoods and “car-light” living. 

The Boulder airport is public and anyone can use it. There is no traffic control. Credit: John Herrick

City has ‘commitment to keep the airport open’

Decommissioning the airport, however, would be costly, at least in the near term.  

For one, the city generates about $800,000 per year in revenue from the airport, according to a city spokesperson. This primarily comes from leasing aircraft hangers and taxing fuel sales. 

Separately, if the city were to decommission the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration would likely require the city to pay back some of the federal grant money it was issued to build and maintain it. On April 27, 2023, John Bauer, the manager of the FAA’s Denver Airports District Office, wrote to city officials stating that “in accepting over $12.7 million in [Airport Improvement Program] funds, the City has agreed to specific Federal obligations, including a commitment to keep the Airport open and make it available for public use as an airport.” 

Bauer added that this obligation “runs in perpetuity” and that the city can not close the airport “without FAA’s consent and without a formal release of the City from the terms of the applicable Federal regulations.”

Exactly how much the city would have to pay the FAA to repurpose the land would “require further study,” according to a city spokesperson.

It’s also unclear exactly how emergency response operations would be impacted by the closure. 

Rocky Mountain Rescue Group uses the airport for certain training and rescue deployments. But for helicopter missions, the group typically uses the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. Brian Oliver, the city’s wildland fire division chief, said air tankers, which are planes that carry suppressant to put out fires, are based at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. Oliver said the Boulder airport is useful for helicopters when fighting wildfires, but not necessary. 

Other tradeoffs, meanwhile, are harder to calculate. 

McKenna, of Journeys Aviation, said last month, one person flew in for the Dead & Company show. And he paused an interview with the Boulder Reporting Lab to watch a World War II era plane take off from the runway — something he’s never seen before at the airport.

“There’s a whole community here,” he said. “There is a community of people who enjoy aviation. That all goes away if this goes away.”

Tim Drugan contributed reporting to this story.

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email:

Join the Conversation


  1. Boulder Airport “covers more than 179 acres northeast of the city. Some want it revamped. Others want it closed and redeveloped for potentially thousands of homes.”

    1. I don’t want 2,000 more homes x 2.6 persons/USA household = 5,200 more people.

    2. With these thousands will come LONGER waiting lines at restaurants, more air pollution, more cars, more crowding into limited charging stations, more traffic congestion, more noise, less wildlife, less clean water, more need for more schools, more need for more hospitals, more blocked beautiful views, longer commutes, bigger government, more rules to try to live by, and more dammed lawyers to fight over it all.

    3. Airplanes are going to go away naturally as DRONES become ubiquitous and as even “flying cars” become more and more commonplace (and the noise from these will be less than airplanes because they will ascend higher before converting to faster/louder wings).

    4. People driving these ultra-modern vehicles will be the advanced elite leaders that attract MODERN jobs with excellent pay. That is what we will need in the future, not more ditch diggers, taxidrivers, and homeless managers. We will need highly trained people to program and operate extremely complex/advanced machines.

    5. The PEOPLE of Boulder do NOT want more people trying to “stand on their heads”. We don’t need more people, we need more space, more clean air, more clean water, less congestion, non-floodable homes, more protection from high-wind fires because of wise building codes that don’t permit houses to sit 5′ apart.

    6. I am proud that people love Boulder, but not everyone in the world has a right to move here. We can’t “put ten pounds of mudd into a five-pound bag.” Certainly not and keep the life style that we were founded on and want to preserve. For those with the “I LOVE NY!” T-shirts around Boulder: let them go back; don’t try to change Boulder into NYC.

    7. Not everyone has to live IN Boulder. There is plenty of land out east. Your problem will be water. Good luck. Then there are vast areas in the nation to build new towns, maybe better than Boulder.

  2. Let’s see, $800K revenue from 179 acres valued in 2018 at $358M is .0022% return.

    Of course, there’s all the other valuable returns we get from the airport: noise, lead, carbon, particulates, mental anguish, financial upheaval from moving, trying to escape.

    I know six families that have moved because of the airport. I know others that would move if they could. So sad, too bad for them. We wouldn’t want ~120 tenants and their customers to have to move their fun and convenience somewhere else! They might have to drive to one of the three other airports that are less than 15 miles from Boulder.

    1. If you think noise, carbon, particulates, and mental anguish are going to decrease because from turning an airport into housing, I’ve got some bad news for you.

  3. The FAA is mandating leaded fuel remain indefinitely. There is no mandate to make sure we eliminate leaded fuel here. Aviation leaves out so much context. Electric aviation is eons away…and won’t need a runway! We lose money as long as there is a runway here. It will cost so much money to repair and upgrade this airport, only to increase pollution. we need to close it ASAP.

  4. There are plenty of other city owned plots of land that might be better suited to development, including the golf course and some of the current greenbelt properties. Boulder generated this problem of unaffordable housing by starting the greenbelt procurement in the 70’s, maybe that program went too far?

  5. The airport has been here since the 1920’s. It wasn’t paved until the 1960’s. Hangars and more planes have been rolling out at the airport ever since with the most recent hangars constructed just a few years ago=more planes. This means the airport has outgrown its place in the middle of a community. If it needed the buffer room then it should have purchased the land but it didn’t.
    “I was here 1st” is a 2nd grade oversimplification to a very complex problem.
    The fact is, many homeowners here now have lived here longer than the pilots/businesses/types of planes/issues flying right now.
    At the end of the day:
    Housing situations are not what they were in 1920.
    Climate issues are not what they were in 1920.
    The airport is not what it was in 1920.
    The industry is not what it was in 1920.
    The FAA didn’t even exist in 1920.
    We had local control in 1920.
    Many hobbies, industries, and businesses relocate when they outgrow the location. The time has come for this airport.

    Boulder county has about 5 airports in about a 15 mile radius, all for privates, hobbyists, and over 20 flight schools. It’s intense. The flight schools each have at least 1-10 planes each. They fly 24/7.
    RMMA is producing over 262,000 flight ops a year
    BDU about 60K a year
    VBO about 90k a year
    Erie about 60k a year
    This excludes the private airparks that are active in Boulder county.
    Half a million flights are flying Boulder county playing musical runways between airports.
    There are very few places to live to not “move near an airport” and even less to not be impacted by them.
    The majority of the 500k/year ops are not transient- meaning they remain in Boulder county, polluting Boulder county no matter the air quality alert days. The majority of Boulder pilots aren’t even leaving the county.
    We need to get a grip on GA in Boulder and step one is repurposing this land for smarter use. The lead poisoning is real, the carbon pollution isn’t even being brought to the equation, the entire 179 acres is where the ecosystem goes to die, there is nothing regenerative here. At least if there’s housing/mixed use there can be a tree for O2 and a bird. Something beyond leaded fuel and a wasteland.

  6. Fact Check: “The FAA is mandating leaded fuel remain indefinitely.” The FAA has spent $millions to develop unleaded aviation fuel, and is now supporting replacing leaded fuel stock with unleaded fuel. See ( for the whole story. electric aviation is available now, and does use runways. One example of many: ( ). The article indicates the airport generates $800k/year in revenue. Not sure how that constitutes loosing money. Believe whatever you want, but trust the facts to make good decisions.

    1. Hi Norm,
      The $800K stat would require data since that is thus far unseen. The last report was $50k (on a good year). The leases don’t even go to the City but rather the airport itself. Private planes merely pay $500/month to hangar in hangars @ 1,000 sq ft. Who else in town gets 1,000 sq ft of office our housing for $500 utilities included? The airport pays no real estate taxes either. It’s not revenue to the City. Even if we went with $800k, that’s not a lot on acres worth $358,000,000.00. As it stands the airport district is the lowest ranking (by a lot) ROI in tax revenue out of all districts in the city. We lose money because the land is suspended for subsidies for a few pilots. Each plane currently occupies over an acre worth 2 million. 171 planes/179 acres.

  7. Over 125 pounds of leaded fuel from Boulder airport are dumped on children in Boulder every year. There is no safe level of lead for children. Close the airport. It’s the biggest pollution engine in town and disrupts the lives of thousands of people. Let the community decide how to use the land whether as open space (to Bob’s point about density, businesses, low-density homes, etc. The point is to allow the community of 100k residents to decide as opposed to the 120 elite hobbyists who can afford a plane.

  8. So many airports in that area! This one needs to close. Period. Anytime there is an opportunity to use valuable land for something much more beneficial to the broader community, then it’s a no-brainer. Especially since general aviation airports are so negatively impactful to Colorado communities and the environment. We don’t need more private pilots. We need to rethink transportation and beyond the next 10-20 years! It has to be something sustainable, and aviation is not and never will be even close to being sustainable.

  9. Close the airport today and build affordable housing as Boulder County certainly needs it.

  10. Close the Airport.
    Multiple crashes by student pilots, lead exhaust spewing on our veg gardens, pets, children….constant loud noise over our previous “Quiet Zone” neighborhood. We lived here 28 years and had no problem with the airport until the flight school started up. We can’t sit in our yard and talk because of the constant noise on nice days. This is a no-brainer. And yes, putting housing here is an absolutely brilliant idea. Our kids can’t afford to live here. They grew up here, went to school here, went to CU Boulder, and have to leave Boulder to find affordable housing. And yes we also know many families who have left our community because of the health and safety issues of constant student pilot flyovers. Do the right thing and relocate the airport outside of the city. Close it now before we have a crash in a neighborhood. It is only a matter of time.

  11. Thank you, BRL, for helping to advance community understanding of the airport issues and the different perspectives.

    Quick fact check on costs…most airport-generated revenue is required by the FAA to be reinvested in the airport. A smaller percentage goes into the city coffers – for example, taxes on aviation fuel that is sold at our airport. It would be good to get the numbers on how much revenue goes to pay for the airport itself vs. benefiting the city’s bottom line.

  12. I’ve lived in Boulder for 30 years. It is idiotic to consider closing the airport, which is 180 acres providing a very important asset to our community from staging and fueling aircraft for fire fighting, training commercial pilots, and providing critical transportation infrastructure for local businesses and residents. are only a few homes that account for the VAST majority of the noise complaints. Why would you ever move next to an airport and then complain about the noise from the thing you knew was there? I love airplane noise and I love the Boulder airport. If you are so miserable because of your own life choices then you should move and make yourself happy. The airport has been here since the early 1900s.

  13. Can you please send or post the following:
    1. Location of mtg.:
    2. Time:

    I am searching for the above answers with hopes of attending. Please email me, thanks!

  14. LTCR and everyone – The ability of the airport to generate revenue is severely limited by management choices that restrict opportunities. There is a vast amount of the airport that could have hangars, for instance, that is currently laying fallow. If the intent is to increase revenue generated by the airport, some investment in infrastrustructure is needed. However, comparing the airport financials to business or even residential zones does not accurately represent the airport use case. It is more accurately compared to parks, the Boulder reservoir, the golf course or even open space. It is a common use facility managed by the city for the enjoyment of the constituents.

    1. Norm, it’s been shown that airports the size of BDU generate no more economic value to a community than a “mid-size strip mall”. Furthermore, per FAA rules, all airport profits must go back to the airport rather than benefit the city/community. Right now BDU exists to benefit the 120 people who can afford the privilege of flying. It does not serve the 100,000 residents of Boulder. The “emergency use” argument is also invalid as it’s Longmont that handles the slurries. The airport provides no measurable value to the community and has outlived its usefulness. Plus it’s taxpayer subsidized. Close the airport.

  15. There are key points missing here. $800,000 in revenue against what costs, both economic and intangible? The airport barely breaks even in reality. It serves a tiny fraction of people. It impacts tens of thousands due to noise and air pollution, and LEAD pollution. It has outlived its usefulness with declining operations over the last several years. The greatest benefit to the most people is to eliminate all but emergency access service and repurpose the land. Reclaiming the land from FAA control might have challenges but it’s worth doing.

    1. Exactly Rachel. It is a bankrupt mess without the federal grant money. These grants shackle our communities to years of suffering from noise and lead. And after today we are reminded of crash risks like the home destroyed in Santa Fe due to a hobbyist. Close it down and give real people a place to call home and pay taxes to support Boulder beautifully!

  16. The airport has been here, as the article notes, since 1928. Anyone who lives near the airport and is bothered by it, unless they are at least 95 years old, knew the airport was there when they chose to buy or build a home. The airport serves a vital function for transportation, training of new pilots, and emergency services. Closing the airport would require a long and expensive fight against the FAA. Boulder has other things to waste its money on that this.

  17. No More Housing!! Are you kidding me?! Boulder claims to be an “environmentally” friendly place, and yet more housing!! Where is that water supposed to come from when we are supposedly trying to reduce water use. The cost of building “affordable” housing is ridiculous when builders are required to follow the standards Boulder county holds for energy use and savings. The traffic nightmare MORE housing will create!! I don’t think so. There are plenty of affordable places in Boulder county outside of Boulder and close by. Longmont, Lafayette, Louisville –

    I dont care about an airport staying or leaving. If you dont like the airport – dont live near it! The only reason Boulder would seriously consider building more homes, isn’t for affordable housing, its for tax revenue.

    Do people in Boulder really want to have affordable homes, or do they just want to look politically correct and collect the $? How about building more affordable places for the elderly in that spot instead. They certainly deserve it since they are being driven from their homes by tax increases that are ridiculous!!

  18. I came to Boulder in ’69 to go to CU. The airport was a special place for me to go through the years and in the late ‘90’s I realized my dream of learning to fly there. Nice bunch of people. Not a lot of “elitists”. Just down to earth (no pun) folks who loved flying. They say if you learn to fly in Boulder you can fly anywhere with the high winds and all. There have always been people who live around the airport who complained about the noise. But the airport was there when they bought their homes, it’s a small percentage of the population who complain and they do love to do it. I live just under the final approach and the sound of the occasional landing is soothing to me. I can’t fly any more because of poor health but if the airport goes away I will miss it. Next time the airport hosts a fly day spend a half hour touring the city in a plane. It’s beautiful from up there.
    New housing is everywhere you look in Boulder. The skyline is being obliterated by multilevel apartment buildings. We do need more affordable housing here but there are other solutions. Having developers salivating at the prospect of a multi million dollar housing complex will not address the affordability of homes available.
    The lead in the gas is a relative easy fix. We did it for cars!

  19. It seems the “closed to growth” community of boulder is confused. Keep property values high by restricting housing, add more “low income” housing. Conflicting rhetoric. Aviation invites more commerce, more high dollar residents, good businesses and great land use (open space anyone?) Wildlife prospers, people prosper, leave it alone and tell the naysayers to stop whining.

  20. Keep the Boulder Airport. Develop the 500 acres the city owns near Jay Road and 28th street! Keep the Airport for our safety. Keep the airport so mountain rescues and firefighting can be responded too more quickly. There are lots of empty residential units and empty commercial units in Boulder not being used. Stop the greed and take a look at all the “for lease” signs all over town. Buy back the Boulder Dinner Theater property to maintain Boulder’s high level cultural assets. Keep the Airport!!

  21. Boulder Airport covers 179 acres of land in Boulder. Boulder and Boulder County have 136,000 acres of open space in Boulder County. If the FAA let’s Boulder out of its agreement to operate the airport, it will cost millions of dollars. Or we could take a few hundred acres of the open space we control and use it for housing. For example, there is ample open space near the insection of Jay Road and Diagonal Highway, not far from the airport. Why not repurpose that land instead.

Leave a comment
Boulder Reporting Lab comments policy
All comments require an editor's review. BRL reserves the right to delete or turn off comments at any time. Please read our comments policy before commenting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *