The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is set to go through some critical upgrades during the next eight years. Plans are in the works for a new terminal area, the expansion of the runway system to accommodate larger future aircraft wingspans and the addition of a fixed-base operator on the west side of the airport.
With so many moving parts and definite timelines to operate within, the Pitkin County commissioners requested information from airport staff regarding the timing and sequencing of numerous capital projects that have been discussed.
At Tuesday’s commissioners work session, Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Director Jim Elwood; J.D. Ingram, of Jviation, a design firm that focuses solely on aviation projects; and Ryk Dunkleberg, of Mead & Hunt architecture and engineering, met with the board and put together a potential project schedule.
“This is not a final schedule,” said Elwood, who will be leaving his post later this year to take a similar job at the airport in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “We, as the community, control the steps forward. This is the first glance on how the pieces can fit together if we decide to move forward in this direction.”
Before moving on to the future project schedule, here’s a nutshell recap of what’s happened leading up to the proposed future agenda:
The county approved the 2012 Airport Master Plan, which included a replacement commercial terminal area and an additional fixed-base operator on the west side of the airport. Discussions are still ongoing concerning the potential airfield reconfiguration, but the airport has stated its hopes to widen the airstrip from 100 to 150 feet and meet the Federal Aviation Administration requirement to have at least 400 feet of safety separation between airstrips. The airport currently has a 320-foot separation between the airstrip and the taxi runway.
“If we’re going to make changes, the FAA wants us to meet all their regulations so we don’t need to keep making changes every few years,” Ingram said.
The airport also began a three-part Future Air Service Planning Study in 2013. Phase I looked at the current and future jet fleet that can access the airport. Phase II encompassed potential airfield configurations to accommodate the anticipated larger wingspans of future aircraft.
The first aspect of Phase III was approved last month with goals to develop a project schedule, gather more information about aircraft performance, update the financial- and capital-improvement planning and begin a series of community outreach.
If the commissioners approve the first aspect of Phase III, airport staff will move on to the second aspect that involves airport layout plan revisions, with a specific emphasis on the documentation of community input.
The future project schedule begins with the terminal area. The commissioners are waiting for a grant offer from the FAA to begin a terminal-area environmental assessment and hope to receive an offer in the next 30 to 45 days. Elwood said he’s hoping the grant offer will be in the $3 million range.
If the FAA grant offer is accepted, work will begin immediately on the terminal-area environmental assessment, a process that is expected to take about two years with public outreach expected throughout the process.
“An environmental assessment isn’t just about air, water and dirt,” Elwood said. “There’s a socioeconomic side to the assessment, as well.”
The process will lead to either a finding of no significant impact or an environmental-impact statement being required.
During the environmental-assessment process, airport staff also will begin some preliminary conceptual designs of the terminal to give the public a sense of the mass and scale of the project.
“We don’t need the terminal to be a tribute to the community or a monument,” Elwood said. “We want a functional community asset that will fit within whatever parameters our community decides.”
An environmental assessment for the airfield isn’t expected to begin until the middle of 2015 at the earliest, which will coincide with the procurement of a new fixed-base operator for the west side of the airport.
Physical construction isn’t scheduled to begin in any phase until 2018. The ultimate goal is to have the construction of the terminal area, the airfield upgrades and new fixed base operator site all completed between 2021 and 2022.
“We’re going to do everything possible to keep all future airport closures to a minimum,” Elwood said. “That’s still several years down the road, but we’ll likely schedule any airport closures to match the offseason. There will not be an extended period where the airport is closed during the peak tourist seasons.”
A complete chart of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport potential project schedule will be posted soon at www.aspenairport.com within the “Aspen Airport Planning” link.
“We’re going to do everything possible to keep all future airport closures to a minimum. That’s still several years down the road, but we’ll likely schedule any airport closures to match the offseason. There will not be an extended period where the airport is closed during the peak tourist seasons.”