Aspen airport narrowing in on plan for facilities

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Aspen-Pitkin County AirportAmong the design concepts for the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport terminal and associated facilities is this one, which adds onto the existing terminal building. The building additions are shaded in brown. Landscaped, underground parking is above the terminal to the left; space for future development is in the landscaped area to the right. It provides for a Highway 82 pedestrian underpass or overpass, and space for 10 parked commercial aircraft between the terminal and the runway. New airfield pavement is shaded in blue.

ASPEN – Options for future facilities at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport have been narrowed to four alternatives – sort of.

From nine conceptual plans for a new commercial terminal, for example, four favorites have emerged, but any of the five ideas placed on the back burner could resurface, any of the four chosen ones could drop off the table and a new idea – perhaps a melding of options – could gain traction, according to Airport Director Jim Elwood.

The master plan for airport facilities remains a fluid process, though a consulting team is now at work on refining the favored concepts for both the terminal and the facilities that serve private aviation, he said.

The favored alternatives emerged after a series of presentations in May, when county commissioners, an airport master plan advisory committee and the public all had a chance to review a series of sketches that depicted little more than the shapes of buildings and where they would go, and where aircraft and vehicles would park.

“There were some clear, preferred alternatives,” Elwood said. “People said, ‘These seem to make sense to me.'”

A design team is now scrutinizing the options through several filters, including safety, operational and financial considerations. Preliminary cost estimates for the facilities will be developed, along with a rough internal layout within the proposed building footprints.

“We won’t be going into a super-deep level because we really feel the need to come back and test the concepts with each phase of the planning,” Elwood said.

The next iteration of the plans should be ready for review in October.

The concepts that have been developed so far came out of a series of charrettes held in January and March that involved 110 members of the public who chose to participate. Typically, consultants and airport staff would come up with the proposals, but instead, the goal was to let the community come up with ideas on where to put facilities and how, for example, to link the terminal to public transit on Highway 82 adjacent to the airport.

Forecasted future passenger activity and security requirements dictated a terminal of about 80,000 square feet, but a variety of building shapes emerged as citizens brainstormed on the layout of that floor area.

Among the four concepts that are moving forward, only one proposes additions to the existing, 45,000-square-foot terminal. The others call for a new terminal and razing the old structure. Each plan includes a separate, underground parking structure for roughly 1,500 vehicles and a reserved area for future, undefined development.

Of the four favored concepts for general aviation, some designate space for a second fixed-base operator to provide aircraft maintenance and fueling services. One keeps all of the general aviation operations on the highway side of the runway, where they exist currently, while three involve facilities on the east, or Owl Creek Road side, which would necessitate a second taxi way parallel to the runway.

While the master plan will address almost everything on the 200 or so acres that make up the airport property (the runway was the focus of a separate master plan), most of the public attention is likely focused on the terminal and the general aviation facilities, Elwood said.

“It’s very easy to look at some of the drawings and say, ‘Oh, my God, do we need a terminal that big or this or that,'” Elwood said.

The question, he said, is whether the airport need a terminal that big in 20 years.

“You have to be in the right perspective with any of these concepts,” he said.

The master plan will lay out what’s expected to be the physical future of the airport, but what, if anything, is actually constructed remains to be seen. Need and financing will dictate development, according to Elwood.

The budget to create a master plan for facilities that may or may not get built is $1.3 million, with the Federal Aviation Administration picking up 95 percent of the bill. The FAA requires airports to keep their master plans current, and it’s necessary to be eligible for federal funding, Elwood said.

The plan will ultimately need county commissioner and Federal Aviation Administration approval. The process is expected to wrap up by the end of next winter.

The 20-year master plan will address needs for an airport that is expected to handle nearly 300,000 commercial passenger enplanements by 2027, compared to 227,784 last year, along with about 58,000 aircraft operations, compared to 37,603 last year.

Information on the planning process to date is available at