County mulls questions on the future of Sardy Field | AspenTimes.com

County mulls questions on the future of Sardy Field

Allyn HarveyAspen Times Staff Writer

Should county planners and consultants base future development at the county airport on a forecast that predicts an average of 1,150 commercial passengers using the facility each day in the year 2022?Or should they use a more conservative estimate of 909 people a day flying in and out of Sardy Field?Should the airport be redesigned so it can handle a 51 percent or 117 percent increase in the number of privately owned planes using the facility over the next 20 years? Or is general aviation traffic going to remain at current levels?Those were the questions the Pitkin County commissioners had to answer before work can proceed on the airport master plan.The plan was initiated by airport director Jim Elwood, who saw a need for some long-range planning at Sardy Field in spite of an airport layout plan drawn up in 1998 by then-director Scott Smith. The latest effort is a more comprehensive analysis, however, and is the first major planning effort at the airport since the mid-1980s.Work on the plan, which one consultant likened to a 20-year capital improvement plan, began in April and is scheduled to finish in 18 months. The plan is being paid for out of the airport’s internal funding that comes from landing fees and other charges.The county commissioners were asked yesterday to give the consultants from Barnard Dunkleberg & Co. some direction on where to go next. Mark McFarland from the Tulsa-based firm and former county manager Suzanne Konchan, who was hired by the county to oversee the work, presented drafts of the first two sections – inventory and forecasts – of what will eventually be a six-section plan.The inventory section looked at the airport’s role in the community, existing facilities such as the terminal and hangars, utilities, airspace, the surrounding environment, neighborhoods and finances.The inventory also included a section on issues facing the airport management and customers, ranging from mundane terminal development to potentially controversial runway-length issues to the nearly impossible task of making room for 3,600 parking spots that are required as part of the area’s transportation planning.”Bud Eylar reminded us yesterday that the Entrance to Aspen record of decision says the airport will be a multimodal facility with an intercept parking lot for 3,600 cars,” Konchan said. “Mark [McFarland] is still recovering from that news.”Most of yesterday’s meeting was spent on the forecasting, however, which planners will use to recommend future development at the airport.The consultants used a number of demand models to predict future growth of commercial and general aviation at the airport, factoring in such variables as estimates from the Federal Aviation Administration, local growth limits and what might happen to demand if service was to improve dramatically at the airport.The numbers are considerably lower than similar estimates made at other airports, McFarland said. But that didn’t seem to matter to an advisory committee of tourism officials and airport users who thought even the most conservative prediction on commercial traffic, which reckons 332,000 passengers will fly in and out of Aspen in 2022, was too high.The all-time high of passenger traffic was 250,000 in 1993, when there were two major airlines, Continental and United, serving Aspen. By 2000, that number had fallen to 214,000. The advisory committee thought passenger growth would be flat or very slight.The commissioners weren’t quite so pessimistic, and they directed the consultants to base the plan around a prediction of 336,000 commercial passengers in 2022. They did share the advisory committee’s skepticism over the general aviation numbers, however, and directed the consultants to take another look at their forecasts.”I would like it if we could capture as many passengers currently going to other airports as we can, so they don’t have to rent a car and drive here from Eagle or DIA,” County Commissioner Dorothea Farris said.[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com.]

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