Airport ready to let fly with a slew of capital projects |

Airport ready to let fly with a slew of capital projects

Jeremy Heiman

The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will see some major improvements before ski season begins, a result of money from stalled projects being reallocated.

The money will be taken from 2000 funding for projects that won’t start until next year, and put toward expenditures that will make life easier for travelers.

Some of the projects include remodeling and new carpet, a new flight information display system, new staff, and studies and surveys to determine how to improve airport service. Airport director Peter Van Pelt has asked the Pitkin County commissioners for authorization to reallocate the funds.

None of the airport budget items are supported by tax money. Airport spending is based on an enterprise fund generated by fees the airport charges commercial airlines and general aviation flyers. But the airport’s expenditures must be approved by the county.

Cuts would come in the area of capital spending for fiscal year 2000. Construction of a pair of shelters for private airplanes, called patio hangars, will not begin until next year. So the $500,000 for that project will be converted to other uses. The hangars would extend between 650 and 800 feet downvalley from the near the airport tower.

The patio hangars, which will cost $1.5 million, are expected be done next year, with private aircraft owners ponying up half the cost. Van Pelt has proposed reallocating $475,000 of the half-million in this year’s budget for other uses. That project must still go through the county’s entire land-use approval process, including evaluation by staff, a visit to the Planning and Zoning Commission and formal approval by the county commissioners.

A sum of $165,000 set aside to update the airport master plan in 2000 will also be transferred to other uses because the master-planning process won’t start until next year.

“The FAA will participate at a higher level in 2001,” Van Pelt said. The agency is expected to pay 90 percent of the master-planning cost starting next year, he said.

Of that $640,000 savings, Van Pelt is asking the county commissioners for permission to spend $441,400 on other projects and staffing. He recommended that reports and studies should get $95,300, physical improvements and equipment purchases should get $305,500 and $40,600 should go for new staffing.

Included in the reports and studies would be a “benchmarking study,” to get better information on how Aspen’s airport compares with other resort airports, especially in the categories of rates and services. A customer survey, to determine how well the airport is doing its job in the eyes of its customers, will cost $13,600.

“What are we doing right, what can we do better?” the survey will ask, he said.

Also in this category is the ARFF Training Plan, to get additional training for the airport rescue and firefighting staff. The category also includes a study to determine what airlines might be interested in providing service to Aspen and a study to determine what the airport could do to improve the quality of its service.

Rounding out the list is an airspace study to determine when it is OK to allow landings at Aspen when cloud ceilings are low or visibility is poor.

The big number in the capital expenditures column is $175,000, which will go to remodeling of the airport’s administrative offices and arrival restrooms. The office area is to get 400 to 500 square feet of additional space, and the restrooms will be improved for customer convenience. Another $50,000 has been set aside for carpeting for the departure and arrival areas, and an additional amount for new furniture.

“I think the capital expenditures will contribute to the positive feel of the airport,” Van Pelt said.

The amount previously budgeted for a flight information display system has been boosted by $50,000. The video monitor display system should be in action by winter, Van Pelt said.

“We will finally, for the first time, have combined arrival and departure information,” Van Pelt said. The system will also be linked with a Web site which will make the information available in travelers’ homes.

“It’s actually a very high priority project,” Van Pelt said. “We hope to have it operational by ski season.” The Web address will be, he said.

In the personnel area, Van Pelt is asking for funding for an operations supervisor for the remainder of 2000, because no supervisory help is currently available during early morning and evening hours. The new staffer would supervise operations, maintenance and firefighting and coordinate the terminal with the FAA, the airlines, the tower and the private aviation operations at the airport.

Busy periods don’t always coincide with the daytime working hours of the current supervisors, Van Pelt said.

“A lot of that happens before eight and after five, and not always Monday through Friday,” he said.

Also, a new operations officer would add more coverage for weekends, and a full-time safety officer would replace a number of part-time positions.

In other airport news, the Federal Aviation Administration has committed to contributing $26 million for improvements scheduled in the airport’s master plan, Van Pelt said. Future expansion will radically change the appearance of the airport.

In the near future, the airport intends to buy 10 acres of the Burlingame Ranch off the south end of the runway, on the west side of Highway 82.

“The FAA has wanted us for years to have that property,” Van Pelt said. “It’s in the runway protection zone.” An appraisal has not yet been done on the property.

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