The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will have to undergo some physical adjustments to its runway in order to accommodate a future wave of aircraft with longer wingspans. That may mean physically relocating the runway, something that originally wasn’t thought possible because of the negative impacts on the surrounding terrain.
Now the airport is considering moving the runway 80 feet to the west, which would have minimal impact on arrival and departure procedures while allowing the next generation of commercial aircraft to operate at the airport under minimal restrictions.
“The goal of today was to share what we learned,” said Jim Elwood, director of aviation at the airport. “The next appropriate step is to talk to the community in greater detail. They haven’t had a chance to absorb what we discussed today.”
Elwood and J.D. Ingram, of Jviation — a planning, design, and construction administration firm that focuses solely on aviation-related projects — spoke to the Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday and gave a presentation about some options they’ve looked at concerning the future of the airport’s runway.
The presentation centered on Phase II of the Future Air Service Planning Study, with airport staff looking for direction from the commissioners with regard to Phase III of the study.
Phase I of the study was presented to the commissioners in November and focused on current trends in the airline industry, the changing technology of future aircraft that may serve Aspen and actions that should be considered to sustain future air service.
The goal of Phase II is to provide a conceptual evaluation for proposed airfield-reconfiguration alternatives by meeting Federal Aviation Administration standards. It also looks at minimizing the impacts on the facilities approved in the 2012 Airport Master Plan as well as accommodating larger future commercial aircraft.
The CRJ-700 provides 95 percent of the current commercial service at the Aspen airport. The aircraft is being phased out over the next decade, with more than half of the U.S. fleet retiring by 2021.
The next generation of larger commercial aircraft is anticipated to come into service beginning in about four years. The new aircraft will have longer wingspans but will be more fuel-efficient with less environmental impact.
The Aspen airport’s wingspan restrictions and the present airfield configuration will not allow the next generation of commercial aircraft to operate there.
Two options were put forward out of 18 potential alternatives that airport staff explored. Both options still would require some modifications to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards. The two options have estimated price tags between $112 million and $132 million.
Both would shift the runway 80 feet to the west in order to increase the width to 150 feet, which would allow for larger wingspans. Both plans allow for a second fixed-base operator, and both would require some adjustments to Owl Creek Road and the bike path.
The commissioners were on board with the two options presented and recommended that the airport staff move forward with Phase III, where airport staff will conduct extensive public outreach to gather and evaluate community input and consider other potential alternatives.
Elwood said that once a format is determined, the outreach will begin.
“I want to make sure data is available to anyone who’s interested,” he said. “The transparency of this process is as valuable as the process itself. If there are questions on concepts, we’ll answer them to the best of our ability. We’ve done a lot of legwork, but now it’s good to get some feedback. Then we can take that and re-examine our position to make further recommendations for the next steps.”