Airport project could see two 60-day closures in offseason | AspenTimes.com

Airport project could see two 60-day closures in offseason

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Preliminary analysis shows the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will be closed for a minimum of one 60-day offseason period, potentially two, between 2017 and 2022, when the airport is scheduled for a series of major improvements.

J.D. Ingram, a representative with project consultant Jviation, told the Aspen City Council of the potential closures Tuesday during a work session. According to plans, Colorado's third-busiest airport — behind Denver International and Colorado Springs airports — will see terminal improvements, a relocated/widened runway that will accommodate larger planes, and the addition of a second fixed-base operator for private jets.

Airport, Pitkin County and Federal Aviation Administration officials have whittled 18 designs down to two, with respective price tags of $132 million and $121 million. The federal government is expected to cover 90 percent of the project, while the Colorado Department of Transportation and the airport's enterprise fund would split the remaining 10 percent.

The Bombardier CRJ700 jet provides 95 percent of current commercial service at the airport, and with half the fleet retiring by 2021, larger, more efficient jets are on the way. This means Aspen will seek to move its runway 80 feet to the west and widen it by 150 feet. Portions of Owl Creek Road would need to be relocated, and part of the Burlingame Ranch Open Space would need to yield to the project, with the latter subject to a public vote.

Terminal construction is expected between 2017 and 2021, while airfield improvements are scheduled between 2018 and 2022 and fixed-base-operator construction is scheduled between 2018 and 2021. Aside from potential offseason closures, County Manager Jon Peacock said the goal is "to keep the airport operational, especially during the busy times in winter and summer."

"We could not shut (the runway) down for one year, much less two or three years," he said, adding that construction would be completed in phases.

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According to Peacock, about 40 percent of Aspen's visitors arrive by plane, while the other 60 percent travel by automobile, sometimes after landing at other Colorado airports. He said there may be opportunities for more seats on the newer, larger airplanes, which have wingspans between 95 and 115 feet, as compared with the CRJ700, which has a wingspan of about 95 feet. However, until an environmental assessment is conducted, that point is unclear.

Though Aspen has a desirable airport because of its proximity to town, Peacock said the No. 3 spot usually shuffles from year to year among Aspen, Eagle County and Grand Junction.

"We've actually had more growth in available seats," he added. "Yes, we do have smaller aircraft. That means we have more operations. I think we have a very full airspace."

Peacock closed the presentation by informing the council that a multitude of reviews — on county, city and federal levels — remain between now and groundbreaking.

herk@aspentimes.com