Airport remodel: Accommodating change


Read the extended version of this story in the Feb. 23 edition of the Aspen Times Weekly, on newsstands now or at

With an eye toward the future, Pitkin County officials have begun the yearslong process they hope will yield a new, modern airport by the year 2020 or 2021.

“If I heard, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it,’ that would be one thing,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper. “But the majority of voices I’m hearing say we need to address the runway and the terminal.

“But we don’t need to go overboard. We don’t need to build the Taj Mahal just because we can.”

The new Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will take shape through two separate projects, each costing about $100 million.

One is construction of a new, modern, green terminal building that meets the needs of today’s passengers as well as those of airport employees and the commercial airlines that fly here. The second is tweaking the runway’s location and making it wider and longer to be able to accommodate the fleet of new, larger regional jets said to be on the way.

“I think we do need a new terminal,” said Pitkin County Board Chairman George Newman. “It’s for the safety, security and comfort of our guests and passengers, as well as to accommodate the new aircraft.”

The original 17,500 square-foot building was constructed in 1976 and “redeveloped” in 1986-87, according to the airport’s website. It is currently about 47,000 square feet, Director of Aviation John Kinney said, and its problems are myriad.

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards likened the facility to “Mr. Potato Head.”

“It’s just a mishmash of elevations and components,” she said. “You stack something on here and hope it looks better.

“I see it as bursting at the seams.”

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association runs a guest services desk at the airport and is well aware of the facility’s issues, said Debbie Braun, the organization’s president and CEO.

“It really isn’t accommodating today’s passengers,” Brown said. “I think our guests deserve a better space.”

As for altering the runway, airport and elected officials cite upcoming changes to the current fleet of regional jets that serve Aspen and many other small airports as the main reason. The current jets, with a maximum wingspan of 95 feet, are no longer being built and will be phased out of commercial airline fleets in the near future, they say.

The new crop of regional jets is slated to be quieter and more fuel-efficient, but they will also be larger, Kinney said. In order to accommodate so-called Group 3 airplanes with wingspans as wide as 118 feet, the runway will have to be moved, Kinney said.

In order to keep the present level of service, the runway would have to be moved 80 feet west of its current location to accommodate those larger wingspans. The runway’s width also would change from 100 feet to 150 feet, Kinney said.

“The question is do you want to maintain regional jets at the current class or downgrade to turbo props?” Richards said. “That would be a tremendous downgrade to service.”