Airport lands $2.2 million for upgrades |

Airport lands $2.2 million for upgrades

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The federal government soon will boost the county piggy bank by more than $2.2 million to help with improvements to the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

Pitkin County will receive some $1.85 million back that it already has spent, and additional grants that could amount to as much as $100 million, thanks to agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration.

County commissioners this week formally accepted an FAA grant for approximately $1.85 million for a series of improvements to the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport that began in 2006. Those improvements included the 2006 construction of the new Airport Operation Center at the northwestern edge of the airport property, as well as a runway rehabilitation project that was completed last year.

The county paid for those improvements, with the understanding that federal reimbursements would be forthcoming at some point.

In addition, the county has accepted a grant of just over $356,000 for an environmental assessment study of plans to extend the airport’s runway. Assistant airport administrator David Ulane said this week the study is estimated to cost a total of $800,000 ” and the FAA has indicated it will be contributing more.

That runway expansion project is expected to cost about $14 million, said Ulane, although he stressed that the ultimate cost could be far greater depending on such factors as inflation and delays in construction, which is the reason that a county resolution about the agreement refers to a grant of “up to $100 million in federal funds” for the work.

Ulane said the FAA is expected to pay “up to 95 percent” of the cost of the runway extension.

Ulane stressed the runway extension will not be a way of enabling larger aircraft to land at the airport, an issue that has previously caused a political fight to erupt between the county and local residents opposed to the plan.

Instead, he said, the extension is to enable aircraft “to potentially go farther with more payload.”

He explained that, because of the altitude of the airport, planes often are unable to get the necessary lift to get off the ground and must depart with fewer passengers than capacity, or with less fuel than the tanks can hold.

“It allows us to use existing aircraft more efficiently,” he said, because the planes will fly with all seats filled with passengers and with a full fuel load, meaning they can fly farther.

The runway expansion is not expected to begin until 2011 or 2012, he said, because of the complexities of the environmental assessment.