Airport to close for 60 days |

Airport to close for 60 days

Naomi Havlen

No flights will be able to land at the Pitkin County airport for 60 days in the spring of 2006 when the runway shuts down for an overhaul, officials announced Tuesday.The airport plans to close the airport after the last day of the ski season, April 9, 2006. A proposed schedule indicates the runway will open on June 8, in time for the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen, the town’s annual kickoff to summer, which is on June 17.During a Pitkin Board of County Commissioners work session Tuesday, airport officials said the public needs to know there will be no flights in and out of Aspen during that time. “When you look at the boardings – the enplanements and deplanements – that’s the best time to do this,” said airport assistant director Rex Tippetts. “We’re actually pretty busy at the airport in the fall.”The asphalt runway at Sardy Field is deteriorating, airport officials said, and something has to be done. The runway has exceeded its 20-year projected life cycle, having last been reconstructed in 1983. Tippetts said the center of the runway received new asphalt in 1996, but the edges are “eating away from the outside in.”Airport director Jim Elwood and Tippetts said they’ve been looking at options for more than a year and have concluded that a $10.3 million concrete overlay is the most efficient, longest-lasting solution.”We want this to be as easy for the community as we can make it,” Jim Elwood said. “We want people to know what’s coming so we can avoid surprises. Some organizations are already doing their convention bookings.”Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, said he’s hopeful the 14 months of notice will help notify the community well in advance. He said airlines that fly in and out of the Aspen airport may be “eager to work with us on alternate plans to serve either Eagle airport or Grand Junction.”The project will be 95 percent funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, Tippetts said. The remaining 5 percent of the cost should be split between the state and the airport’s enterprise funds – money that comes from use fees at the airport.The airport must get final approval for the project from the FAA, although Elwood said the agency is well aware of the project and is in “conceptual agreement.” Airport officials must next present the FAA with the specifics of the project, like its scope and safety aspects.Airport officials plan to remove 2 to 3 inches of asphalt from the runway and put down 9 inches of concrete, which provides a 20- to 25-year life span or longer if well maintained, Elwood said. An on-site concrete plant would be required.Another asphalt runway would require major maintenance after 10 to 12 years involving another runway closure, officials said. The project would not change the size or length of the runway.”We believe the [current] runway will make it to 2006, although we don’t know for sure that we won’t face some emergency repairs at the end of the freeze-thaw cycle,” Elwood said. “2006 is when the work absolutely needs to be done without any compromise to safety. We don’t want to alarm anyone, but the runway is at the end of its life cycle, and we need to do something.”Airport officials were commended by the county commissioners for scheduling the project during the airport’s slowest time of the year. Commissioners also supported the proposed concrete overlay solution.”If you’re going to do this, you have to do it right,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is

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