Aspen airport runway to get shorter, then longer |

Aspen airport runway to get shorter, then longer

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen Times fileA United Express jet prepares for take-off at the south end of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway, where an additional 1,000 feet of runway space will be added.

ASPEN – The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway will get shorter before it gets longer.

Airport officials are preparing for an April 2011 start to a $14.5 million project to lengthen the runway by 1,000 feet, with the hope that the 240-day project can begin shortly after Easter and be finished by this time next year.

The bulk of the federal funding for the project has yet to be appropriated, but it is expected, said Jim Elwood, aviation director at the airport.

“We believe the funds will be there,” he said.

The construction, Elwood told county commissioners Tuesday, will include a 45-day stretch when the existing 7,000-foot runway will be reduced in length by 800 feet to allow construction to occur on the south end.

The airport will remain open through the duration of the extension project. But shortening the runway will impact commercial aircraft that are already hampered by weight restrictions at the airport, particularly in the summer months. In hot weather, airline seats are left unfilled to reduce aircraft weight for take-off. The runway extension will help ease the weight restrictions, giving planes more room to take off with a full load of passengers and fuel.

Resort officials also hope the additional 1,000 feet will open the airport to use by more types of regional jets. It won’t, however, allow larger planes to fly in and out of Aspen.

Cutting the runway back by 800 feet in July or August would be especially problematic, noted Commissioner George Newman, questioning the timing of the work.

When the 45-day shortening of the runway will occur hasn’t been nailed down, according to Elwood, and the sequence of the construction work will dictate when it happens.

He said his goal is to let airlines know well in advance of the work, so they don’t sell seats that they won’t be able to fill when the time comes, affecting passengers who expect to get on a plane.

“Our intent is to make sure it impacts folks as little as possible,” Elwood said. “It will have some impact.”

In advance of the runway project, cameras are being installed on the south end of the runway that will give the control tower a better view of the area. In addition, some funds have already been authorized to begin utility relocations and hook up West Buttermilk homeowners to Aspen’s water utility. Wells serving the homes, located south of the runway, will be capped.

The Federal Aviation Administration will fund 95 percent of the extension project with money from taxes it collects on fuel sales, airfares and freight. The airport will fund the rest – as much as $2.1 million – out of its revenues.

Bids for the runway project were opened Sept. 9; the low bidder was Concrete Express of Denver.