Brian Condie, the Rifle Garfield County Airport manager of nearly 21 years who is also the city’s mayor pro-tem, stands for a portrait on the runway. “All I hear is money,” joked Condie about the planes that fly over his and other residents houses. He sees the Rifle airport as an economic driver for Garfield County, supporting around 277 jobs and nearly 41 million in business revenues according to the state’s 2020 airport economic impact report, which is based in part by data collected and reported by him and other airport staff. But some residents feels differently.

How a small airport in rural Colorado became a landing pad for the rich

Private jet travel is booming and community members living near airports say they are bearing the brunt.

Photographed for The Guardian

A neighborhood in Rifle, Colo., sits atop a hill not far from the Rifle Garfield County Airport. Private-jet traffic at the public-use airport has increased by nearly 73% over the last five years, according to a data analysis conducted by The Guardian.

PJ Breslin, left, and her husband, Craig Chisesi, stand for a portrait in their backyard in Rifle, Colo. The two have felt frustrated with amount of noise from the airport and what they see as a lack of economic benefits for Rifle residents. "It’s insane to even contemplate that many private jets flying into one small location!' wrote Breslin in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. 'Jets owned by the wealthy, entitled, third-home owners and fake environmentalist celebrities, who have zero idea of their impact on the valley and the planet, much less their neighbors. Nor do they care."

Chisesi shows a decibel meter that he and his wife use to measure airplane and other noise around their home.  Breslin says she often records levels reaching over 90 decibels, which exceeds the FAA’s limit - an average of 65 decibels over 24 hours.

The intersection of Airport and Runway Roads is seen outside the Rifle Garfield County Airport. Airport Road runs all the way through the town of around 10,500.

Planes sit parked at the airport. Most of the air traffic at the airport is from jets, part of a national boom in private air traffic driven in part by wealthy travelers opting to fly privately instead of commercially, hoping to beat Covid restrictions, crowds and delays.

Condie works in his office at the airport. “Is it money in residents’ pockets? No. But if there is a wildfire in the valley, those planes come from here,” said Condie. “So everyone in Rifle benefits.” There hasn't been a noise study at the Rifle airport, he says.

Lights from the Rifle Garfield County Airport shine as dusk falls over the edge of town. A possible expansion of the runway at the airport in nearby mountain destination Aspen could bring even more flight traffic to Rifle. “We are the sacrifice zone in this valley,” Breslin said. “We always have been."


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