Aspen-Pitkin County Airport’s future air study moves forward

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

The future of commercial air service at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport has taken another step forward as airport officials begin the third phase of a study looking at the changing air-carrier environment.

At a Tuesday work session with Pitkin County commissioners, Jim Elwood, the airport’s aviation director, presented information and costs concerning the third phase of the future air-service study plan.

Elwood requested and received approval from the commissioners for an estimated budget of $500,000 for the third phase. The phase’s main goals are to develop a project schedule, gather more information about aircraft performance, update the financial and capital improvement planning, and begin a series of community outreach.

A layered approach to the future air-service study began with the first phase of the study, which was completed in November. Phase I looked at the current and future regional jet fleet and its ability to operate at the airport.

Phase II was completed in June, and reviewed 18 different airfield configurations to determine different options that would ensure future commercial air service to Aspen. Phase II also identified the two potential alternatives for the airport to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards for safety and operational capacity while accommodating larger future commercial aircraft.

“Right now, we’re putting a flashlight on this particular subject,” Elwood said. “Over time, that scope will broaden out. We know this project connects to other projects we’re working towards. The schedule we’re creating will show the other projects; we’ll continue to talk about them so then the community gets a clear picture of the changes we’re contemplating.”

Elwood said the future air-service study eventually would tie in with the 2012 airport master plan, but he believes it’s better to approach this study separately for clarity’s sake.

“At some point in the future, we’re going to make sure that the entire picture is clear to the community,” Elwood said. “We’re focused right now on the future air-service study, but we also know we’re going to need to do something about our commercial terminal building. These two projects have a certain amount of commonality that’s going to need to be addressed and shared with the public. But at the moment, we’re really focused on the air-service study, and we’re making sure we do it right before we move toward other projects.”

Phase III of the study was developed to ascertain information and to provide the community with opportunities to become informed on the issues and provide input. The phase contains nine components, with the first aspect, the project schedule, possibly the most critical.

The project schedule involves the development and maintenance of the overall project schedule for all phases, from planning to construction. The project schedule will be driven mainly by FAA expectations with an estimated fee of $25,680.

“The project schedule is paramount,” Elwood said. “It’ll allow us to put all the pieces of this puzzle together.”

The next two aspects include the further aircraft capability assessment and the updated financial plan. The capability assessment will evaluate current aircraft performance, specifically related to air carriers, with regard to the proposed 80-foot runway shift at the airport to accommodate future aircraft with larger wingspans.

The updated financial planning will provide a preliminary financial plan and feasibility analysis to establish a potential timeline for project implementation. The estimated cost of the capability assessment is $53,818, and the financial plan $72,010.

The capital-improvement plan update provides a preliminary review of the capital improvements in correlation with eligible FAA and state grant cycles as well as other funding sources. The improvement plan will tie in closely with the project schedule. The cost of the plan is estimated at $27,280.

The project phasing plan evaluates the phasing for capital improvements in order to match up with anticipated funding in any given year, should the project proceed. This plan further refines how each aspect of the service study moves forward. The phasing plan cost is projected at $31,150.

The community outreach and agency-coordination plan includes numerous outreach opportunities to ensure the public has full access to information while gathering input from the community. This task includes community open houses, a stakeholders meeting, agency updates, coffee chats, video production, displays ads and website updates at an estimated cost of $219,830.

Nearly $10,000 will go toward a full presentation that will be made to the board of county commissioners summarizing all information and input received. Step B of the air-service study will not proceed without the direction of the board.

Finally, it’s anticipated there will be several meetings with the airport and the FAA to coordinate on the progress of Step A, and there will be costs for miscellaneous items, such as reproduction work required for any documents and preparation of the scope and fee for Phase III. The estimated cost of these two steps is nearly $25,000.

The estimated fee for Step A of Phase III is $512,541, and comes from the airport fund, which currently sits around $10.3 million. The airport fund is generated from monies collected from services at the airport. None of the airport fund comes from sales or property taxes.

Elwood said that work on Step A of Phase III will begin immediately.

Step B involves airport layout plan revisions. Those revisions will only be initiated and completed with direction from the commissioners following a presentation of the key elements of Step A, with a specific emphasis on the documentation of community input.

If the Step B revisions are approved by the commissioners, the airport and FAA will look at grant availability for the funding of an environmental assessment.

“The goal of every step we’ve taken is to be very thorough and thoughtful,” Elwood said. “We want to understand what the next step should be, define that scope and pursue those next steps. The over-arching issue is that when we get done with Phase III, we’ll have solid information that we can share with the community.”