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Aspen Airfield Reconfiguration Plan Moves Forward

Dec 17, 2014

More than 90% of the commercial aircraft that serve the Aspen Pitkin County Airport are being phased out. The new replacement planes have wider wingspans, so the airfield must be reconfigured.
Credit Marci Krivonen

A plan to reconfigure the airfield at the Aspen Airport cleared its latest hurdle on Tuesday. The Board of Pitkin County Commissioners gave initial approval to an “Airport Layout Plan.” Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

The County will send the preferred plan to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is requiring the airport to make safety improvements. Most of the commercial aircraft that serve the airport are being phased out and their replacements have longer wingspans. So modifications, like a wider runway are needed.

To make room for the jets, county staff recommended a plan that proposes relocating a portion of Owl Creek Road and uses three acres of City Open Space. County Manager John Peacock says it meets FAA safety requirements and most citizens who weighed in, supported it.

"Based on that feedback, we believe “Alternative 8A,” both for the technical reasons and from the feedback we’ve received from the public is the best alternative to submit."

The elected board had concerns. Commissioner Rob Ittner probed about acquiring open space to build-out the airfield.

Ittner: "Without a vote from the City of Aspen neither of these options are possible, correct?"

Peacock: "That’s correct."

Ittner: "So, is there an option an option that the FAA might approve without going into City of Aspen land?"

If voters said “no,” the County and the FAA would look back on a slew of other “alternatives,” or options to reconfigure the airfield.

Another concern raised by community members and the commissioners is about the kind of aircraft flying into the airport. County Manager John Peacock says with the new reconfiguration, it’s possible but not likely, that larger jets, like 737’s, could fly in.

"We don’t know whether they have the operating capacity to fly here. Do they have the performance capability to fly here? And, would they meet what may be more stringent safety standards to operate here. We don’t know the answers to those questions yet," he says.

He says an environmental assessment will provide answers.

Ultimately, the commissioners backed the recommendation. Commissioner George Newman said the airport is one of the area’s most important economic assets and keeping it current is important.

"It’s not a 10k, it’s a marathon and we’re just at the start. But, what has been so valuable to me has been the process that’s been undertaken."

The finished product is a long way off. Construction may not be complete until 2021.

The next step is a final vote from the commissioners, then the environmental assessment that will study how it might impact the natural environment and the resort economy, among other things. The preferred alternative has a $132 million price tag. County officials say the FAA will pay the lion’s share.