Airport officials to public: Will a longer runway fly? |

Airport officials to public: Will a longer runway fly?

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The management of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport wants to talk with the public about plans to extend the main runway by anywhere from 800 to 1,000 feet.

The runway currently is 7,000 feet long, and aviation experts have concluded that adding to the length would enable planes to carry more passengers and more freight than they can now.

For example, airline officials have said that, currently, anywhere from five to 15 seats must be left empty on wintertime flights in order for planes to depart.

A longer runway also would add to aircraft stability during takeoff, which would enable the airlines to sell more seats and take on more freight and luggage, said airport Director Jim Elwood.

One study, presented to the Pitkin County commissioners in late 2008, estimated that had the runway been extended and in use between March 2007 and February 2008, an additional 13,294 seats could have been sold by airlines. A consultant said that would be the equivalent of 201 planeloads without actually adding a single flight to the schedule.

The commissioners voted unanimously in September to direct their staff to proceed with a more detailed study of the idea, and in particular expressed interest in the 1,000-foot extension.

“The idea of fewer but fuller airplanes is attractive to me,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said at the time.

Elwood stressed that the extension would not be designed to accommodate larger aircraft, an idea that raised a howl of public protest in the 1990s when the local business community supported a plan to increase the runway’s weight-bearing capacity and bring in 737-sized jets.

Elwood said the extension plan “improves the efficiency of the aircraft that are already operating at our airport.”

Also still under way is a Federal Aviation Administration study of the possible need to rebuild or relocate the airport tower, which now stands at 45 feet, in order for air traffic controllers to see to the end of the elongated runway. The FAA is studying a proposal by the airport administration to employ remote-controlled cameras to overcome the sight-line deficit.

An open house to inform the public about the planned expansion’s ongoing environmental assessment is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Monday, April 27, at the Rio Grande Room, at 455 Rio Grande Place (the old youth center building).

Elwood said the final version of the EA, as it is known, won’t be done until early 2010 at best.

“What we’re doing here is presenting what we’ve learned to date,” Elwood said, referring to the information he will be sharing with the public as “a chapter of the overall environmental assessment.”

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