Airport board takes first step in effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 |

Airport board takes first step in effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030

Average of 2019 and 2020 emissions will be used as baseline

The main terminal of the Aspen Airport on Sunday, June 19, 2022.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Pitkin County’s Airport Advisory Board has recommended using a baseline of greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 and 2020 when it sets reduction goals.

The county government has an overarching goal of reducing emissions by 30% in the next seven and a half years across all aspects of its operations. The Airport Advisory Board at its meeting Thursday decided to pick a baseline so it can get to work on ideas to accomplish the goal.

“Our role here in Aspen is to be a model for the rest of the world,” said board member Auden Schendler, senior vice president of sustainability and community engagement for Aspen Skiing Co. One big way to accomplish that goal is to “educate the people coming through the airport,” he said.

When asked to elaborate after the meeting, Schendler said he believes the airport terminal should go to all-electric power sources when it gets replaced in the near future. When that happens, he wants everyone from ski bums to billionaires to learn when they pass through Aspen-Pitkin County Airport that there is an all-electric terminal. As the grid gets “cleaner” from Holy Cross Energy incorporating more renewable sources of power into its inventory, an all-electric terminal would drastically reduce its emissions.

“We desperately need to showcase that” to people passing through, Schendler said. “It should be in their face.”

While the airport terminal presents an educational opportunity, the key to reducing airport emissions is through more efficient aircraft, Schendler said.

The advisory board got a briefing on Aspen-Pitkin County Airport emissions Thursday from a team from Mead & Hunt, a nationwide consulting firm specializing on airport development.

One of the biggest takeaways for advisory board members was that emissions didn’t drop significantly in 2020 compared to 2019 despite a drastic drop in the number of passengers loading planes, known as enplanements in the airline industry.

Greenhouse gas emissions declined only 7.2% in 2020 despite enplanements dropping during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jen Wolchansky, senior environmental planner for Mead & Hunt. Her team double-checked the figures because it was so surprising, she said. They learned the marginal decrease was due to a 3.1% increase in aircraft operations in 2020 over 2019. While commercial operations were down, private operations increased during the pandemic due to Aspen’s wealthy clientele.

Greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 are not yet available.

The Mead & Hunt presentation also drove home the point that an all-electric terminal isn’t going to accomplish the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 — not even close.

In 2020, the airlines and general aviation and associated facilities accounted for nearly 93% of the airport’s greenhouse gas emissions. Operations in the public-owned facilities, such as rental car companies, account for about 5% of emissions, while the airport-owned and controlled operations, such as the terminal, accounted for only 2%.

Those figures drove home the point to Schendler that getting more efficient commercial aircraft is the key to reducing the airport’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“One plane is a massive amount of emissions,” he said after the meeting.

A plane waits to be boarded on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at the Aspen Airport.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Getting more efficient aircraft in operation at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport by 2030 poses a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, the majority of the Airport Advisory Board supported setting the baseline so the problem can be attacked. Schendler, Bruce Gordon, Meg Haynes, Rich Burkley, Rick Heede and Mike Solondz supported setting the baseline. The votes of board members Jackie Francis and Valerie Braun weren’t apparent during the meeting, which was a hybrid of in-person and remote attendance. Airport staff clarified after the meeting that Francis wanted to be reflected as a no vote; Braun didn’t vote.

Dan Bartholomew, airport director, said on Friday said the board will have to determine in future meetings what emissions to target and the steps to implement to achieve the goal. The board meets on the third Thursday of each month. Once it charts a course, it will pass it recommendations to the county commissioners.


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