FAA clarifies wingspan issue after Aspen airport makes request
Ryan Summerlin May 9, 2012
ASPEN – The Federal Aviation Administration says “winglets” at the tip of an aircraft’s wings count toward the measurement of its overall wingspan – a ruling that has implications for the planes flying into and out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.
Jim Elwood, aviation director at the local airport, said he received a phone call Tuesday morning from the FAA, clarifying the issue. The FAA intends to rewrite its definition to make it clear that “wingspan” is a measurement from wingtip to wingtip, he said.
The FAA’s decision means the Gulfstream 650, a new jet not yet certified for use, exceeds the wingspan limit in place at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. Gulfstream sought a decision from the airport on the issue, as the new jet’s overall wingspan measures 99 feet, 7 inches, while the airport’s wingspan limit is 95 feet.
Elwood initially decided the new jet would fit within the limitation, as its horizontal wings measure 93 feet, 8 inches. The winglets are wingtips slanted upward at an angle.
“That was a misinterpretation on my part, and I certainly regret it,” Elwood said.
Both the county and the FAA have adopted the 95-foot wingspan limit in place at the local airport. Elwood said Tuesday he does not expect county commissioners will move to adjust the limit upward.
County Manager Jon Peacock said further action by commissioners is not a pressing matter, though the wingspan issue could see discussion at some point in the future because winglets help improve efficiency and reduce noise – improvements the county embraces.
The wingspan issue was recently called to light by Cliff Runge, a founder of Citizens for Responsible Airport Development, a group that has questioned elements of an airport master-plan update currently under review. Runge suggested Elwood’s approval of the Gulfstream 650 wingspan spoke to the driving forces behind the master plan for future airport facilities, potentially including large hangars for private jets.
“I didn’t bring that to light because I was picking on the G650,” Runge said Tuesday. “It’s a symptom of bigger, better, more going on out there that I find troubling.”
Elwood expressed regret that the airport master plan and the wingspan issue became linked, calling the two topics unrelated.