Pitkin candidates consider airport expansion plans
Editor’s note: This is part four of a five-part Q&A series with county commissioner candidates this week.
Today, the two candidates for the District 3 seat on the Pitkin County board of commissioners answer the fourth of five questions posed by The Aspen Times.
The District 3 seat currently is held by Michael Owsley, who has served three 4-year terms on the board and is term-limited from running again. District 3 essentially wraps around Aspen’s city limits and includes Independence Pass, Brush Creek and Woody Creek, though members of the board are elected by all county residents on an at-large basis.
The District 4 and District 5 seats, held respectively by Steve Child and George Newman, also are up for re-election, though neither commissioner is being challenged this November. Child will serve his second term on the board, while Newman will serve his third.
Question: Pitkin County and Aspen airport officials are contemplating spending $96 million on a new airport terminal. Do you support this plan? Why or why not?
Yes, I support a new airport for largely the same reasons those who fought the “new” airport 30 years ago fought against that expansion. That being the new runway will allow us to handle next gen planes that use less fuel, make less noise and reduce the area of noise impact with steeper take off and landing ratios than current planes. This is doing our part to support a future that is about innovation and cleaner, more efficient transportation. This is about emphasizing our resort economy and showing the world our dedication to their service. By the way, we really don’t have an acceptable choice. If we don’t make these improvements we will be downgraded by the FAA and eventually lose current service we have fought so hard to gain.
Not only do I support it to improve the experience for our guests, but also for the employees who work out there. Currently the “back of house” is atrocious. Working conditions are terrible and we should value our employees more and allow them to work in excellent conditions, not pathetic conditions. Great employees deserve great working conditions.
Regarding the financing, this is a “partnership” between the FAA, Pitkin County, airlines, car rentals companies and other entities. Airport fees cover all airport operating expenses, and with the assistance of federal FAA monies and grants we develop the airport capital projects autonomous from any general fund or taxpayers’ dollars.
I attended the recent airport terminal concept meeting and was impressed by the vision of the architects, engineers and designers, some of whom have been working with our airport for over 30 years. It’s no secret that the current airport terminal is outdated and has been compromised to accommodate post-911 security protocols. The staff areas and physical plant behind the public areas are undersized and worn out. It is time for renewal. The plans for the new terminal are only interesting eye-candy at this stage of the process, leaving many questions to be answered about detail and right-sizing the terminal.
Is it appropriate for the airport to be spending money on the largest design possible?
The drawings show the absolute largest terminal the FAA approvals will allow. At 160,000 square feet, they are much larger and more expensive than we need, or can afford. Before we make any decisions on the airport the designers must come back with drawings more representative of reality.
Our community must keep in mind that the airport terminal is a major entrance to our valley. It will be the first impression visitors get, and it must work for locals who travel and commute. People love the intimacy of our small airport and many even like deplaning in the fresh mountain air. Pitkin County should first consider making our airport modest in scale and unique from the mundane jetway experience travelers get everywhere else on the planet. Creative modern solutions don’t have to be big city solutions. Consider that a more modest-scale airport without jetways may limit the number of flights per day.
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