Once again the county commissioners have acted in an unconscionable way by approving yet another set of fee increases for the use of the county's public airport. As a homeowner in Basalt and part-time employee with Aspen Skiing Co., I fly my private airplane to the area on a fairly frequent basis. But I never land at Aspen! Why? Too expensive and totally uncompetitive!
It is clear that the county commissioners and airport management are trying to fleece the airlines and "heavy metal" jet owners out of every penny they can. The airport's very high landing fees combined with its having granted Atlantic Aviation a monopoly as a fixed-base operator with outrageous fuel, handling and parking fees make it the most expensive minor commercial airport I know of in the West.
As has been reported in the Times recently, the commercial fees are "on the high end." But more importantly, the fees charged to private pilots and private airplanes are off the charts. This alone is disturbing, but what makes it even more so is that the airport has accepted millions and millions of dollars from the federal government, we the taxpayers, for every phase of development of the airport and especially for its most recent runway lengthening. And there continues to be talk of improving the terminal complex and, even in advance of that, raising fees. Speaking as a general aviation private pilot, we don't need a longer runway or a better terminal or the imposition of a handling fee the minute we exit the runway onto the leased property of the fixed-base operator - I ask, What handling? We park ourselves.
What is really happening is that the airport management and commissioners have forgotten that the airport is a public facility, not a fundraising operation! What they are doing would be comparable to the parks commission charging organized sports a usuriously high fee for using our parks and then charging every child, dog and dog walker each time they set foot on park property. Isn't the park there as a public service for the use of our citizens and taxpayers? The airport should be the same!
By the way, I am fine with big corporate jets and commercial operations. But why drive off the little guy - the private pilot who would love to fly into and visit Aspen and the surrounding area for a day or two or the pair of skiers or golfers or bike riders or shoppers? Fine, build fancy terminals and lounges for the commercial and corporate/big government set, but build us a place on the airport where we can land for nothing, park our own plane, pay $10 a night for parking and get fuel for less than $7 a gallon. Let's encourage private pilots to come to Aspen rather than continuing to drive them away. It's not only right - it is the proper use of the public funding that has made the airport what it is.