Committee: Aspen-Pitkin County Airport can modernize under ‘community values’ |

Committee: Aspen-Pitkin County Airport can modernize under ‘community values’

A commercial aircraft departs Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The community-led committee in charge of shaping the size and character of Aspen’s new airport tossed a bit of a curveball Tuesday in approving the final recommendations they will make to county commissioners about the future facility.

The Vision Committee — which has overseen the yearlong effort to hone plans for the new facility — voted nearly unanimously to leave the runway where it is.

And while the move will theoretically still allow planes with larger wingspans, including 737s, to land at the new airport, the committee also recommended to direct commissioners to negotiate with airlines and make sure the planes they fly into Aspen are fuel-efficient, quiet and meet community standards, said John Bennett, Vision Committee chairman.

“That’s the big condition,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s make sure we have an airport that will allow modern planes to come in here, but they have to be only a little bit bigger than (the largest planes that have historically regularly flown into the airport).’

“We’re really drawing the line at community values.”

Additionally, the Vision Committee recommended that commissioners approve a facility between 75,000 and 90,000 square feet, with seven “flexible” gates with “open air jetways” that can be consolidated when larger planes come in to regulate growth, he said.

The plan absolutely reflects Aspen and Pitkin County’s community values and is the product of 13 months of work involving many residents of the upper Roaring Fork Valley, Bennett said.

“People of goodwill, even if they disagree, can come together and find solutions to big, thorny community issues,” he said. “I feel really excited and quietly proud of the community.”

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, citing the final 20-1 vote on the recommendations to commissioners, agreed.

“The level of consensus that emerged from this process — that is a pretty big deal,” Peacock said. “I think this plan better reflects the community values … than what we had in the (original plan submitted to the FAA for environmental review).

“This public process has mattered.”

Beyond the terminal, the runway and the type of aircraft that will fly into Aspen in the future, the committee’s recommendations included maximizing safety, electrifying as much of the facility as possible, making it net zero or able to produce as much energy as it consumes and having it fit seamlessly into the upper Roaring Fork Valley’s existing ground transportation options.

But not moving the runway — which was a majority recommendation of a subcommittee that looked at the issue — was the big difference in Tuesday’s final vote. The plan for most of the past few years was to move the runway 80 feet west and widen it from 100 feet to 150 feet to accommodate larger planes that were likely to fly the Aspen route.

However, the Vision Committee instead voted to recommend moving the taxiways 80 feet to the east, which would create enough space between the taxiway and the runway to appease the Federal Aviation Administration and allow modern planes with larger wingspans to land here, Peacock said. The airport can currently accommodate wingspans up to 95 feet, while those with spans up to 118 feet will be able to land at the new airport.

That recommendation saves $40 million in construction costs, untold carbon emissions associated with concrete construction and one summer of no air service into Aspen, Bennett said. The new plan will still require four months without air service during one summer, but the old plan would have required two, he said.

“So, yeah, that’s a big deal,” Bennett said.

Pitkin County commissioners will have the final say on the shape and scale of the new airport terminal, runway and the type of planes that will fly into and out of the upper Roaring Fork Valley. Those discussions will begin later this spring.