Aspen airport terminal plans move forward
October 4, 2011
ASPEN – A simple design for a new terminal at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and an elaborate idea for the building – one that calls for a conveyor to move people between the terminal and a baggage drop-off next to Highway 82 – were the favored alternatives Monday among members of a county-appointed advisory group.
The Airport Master Plan Study Committee, looking at four design layouts that were winnowed from nine possibilities under consideration in May, displayed little support for retaining the existing terminal facility, which was one of the options.
County commissioners will be asked for their input Tuesday.
One alternative calls for retaining and renovating the existing 45,000-square-foot terminal and adding a new, adjacent concourse on the runway side of the building. A North 40 resident supported the proposal as the best one to block airport noise affecting her neighborhood, across Highway 82, but it saw little support among the rest of the group.
“It would have incredible operational impacts during construction,” said Jim Elwood, aviation director at the airport.
The other options allow continued use of the existing terminal while new facilities are built; then the old building is razed. All of the options also call for a 1,000-space underground parking garage with room to expand to accommodate another 1,000 cars, and each design envisions an as-yet-undefined interface with mass transit at Highway 82. The construction can be phased in each of the designs, according to the consultants working on the plans.
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The new structures would be roughly 80,000 square feet in size, with room to expand to about 98,000 square feet. The size takes into account existing space deficiencies at the terminal and future projections of commercial traffic, among other factors, Elwood explained.
The number of commercial seats coming into the airport this winter will be up some 30,000, he added. Those are the result of American Eagle’s entry into the market and the greater number of seats that can be made available once the airport runway is lengthened, easing weight restrictions that sometimes force airlines to leave seats empty.
Nonetheless, committee member John McBride, developer of the Aspen Business Center across the highway, had his doubts about the projected need for 80,000 square feet by 2017.
“You guys are planning for doubling the size, possibly, in the next 15 years,” he said. “Where is that growth going to come from?”
About half of the additional space is to accommodate existing needs, particularly in baggage handling and security, the committee was told.
“The existing terminal building is undersized by a bunch,” Elwood said.
Among the design alternatives, a simple, essentially rectangular terminal won favor with many in the group as seemingly efficient and cost-effective. On the other hand, a design that places baggage drop-off near the highway and features a conveyor to move travelers to the main terminal building also rose to the top.
Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, said she liked elements of the latter plan, for its ease in dropping off and collecting baggage for travelers, but admitted concern about the conveyor.
She praised the master plan experience, which has given a group of community representatives, including some with a stake in the outcome of the process, the power to filter ideas and help shape the proposals that go to the commissioners.
“I think I’ve got a much broader understanding of the operational challenges at the airport, when you see what goes on behind the scenes,” she said.
The designs will be narrowed to one or two, and a financial analysis will aim to determine what it would cost to build a new terminal and the associated facilities. A public open house to review the plans is scheduled for Nov. 7.
The master plan is expected to go to commissioners for adoption early next year, possibly in March; it also requires approval by the Federal Aviation Administration. Though the FAA requires airports to keep their master plans current, need and financing will dictate what – if anything – is eventually built, according to Elwood.
General aviation facilities at the airport are also being assessed as part of the master plan process.