County starts small on plans for Aspen airport
ASPEN – An option for future development of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport dubbed “status quo-plus” won favor with the majority of Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday.A new 20-year master plan for the airport property has been in a state of formation and refinement for slightly more than a year. Commissioners were asked Tuesday to narrow the list of options for elements of the airport other than the commercial terminal, which will be the focus of a discussion Tuesday, Feb. 14.Alternative A, or the “status quo-plus” option, does not make space for a second fixed-base operator and does not meet the goal identified by consultants for future, additional aircraft parking. It does provide about half of the recommended additional parking for private jets and smaller planes. It envisions a renovation of the existing terminal rather than razing it and starting from scratch, and it would move the existing fixed-base operator to a new building next to the terminal.Commissioners conceded that Alternative A, with a ballpark cost of $25 million (excluding terminal costs), could be a stepping stone to Alternative C, the most expensive of the options with a preliminary estimate of $95 million. Alternative C, which would place a second fixed-base operator and other facilities on the west (or Owl Creek) side of the airport, also would require a second taxiway, paralleling the runway on that side.Though Alternative C is the most expensive of the proposals, it would generate the most additional income for the airport operation, said consultant Mark McFarland, of Barnard Dunkelberg & Co.”We think Alternative C gives you the best long-term guidance with how improvements may take place at the airport in the next 20 years,” he said.Commissioner Jack Hatfield voiced the most vehement opposition to Alternative C.”When I look at this, I think I can pretty confidently say this community is in no way ready for Alternative C, unequivocally,” he said. “I like Alternative A because it doesn’t preclude anything.”But Alternative A does little to provide added facilities at the airport, Commissioner Rachel Richards countered.”Alternative A is a lot of money for kind of little net gain at the end of the day,” she said, advocating A as a phased approach to Alternative C.Commissioner George Newman voiced concern about the noise, traffic and visual impacts of building up the west side of the airport, suggesting the county start with Alternative A.”Alternative A really opens the door for Option C,” said Commissioner Rob Ittner. “I’m not sure this plan has to reach the level of Option C.”Ittner asked the consulting team to analyze how much general, or private, aviation supports the airport.While Hatfield questioned the need to accommodate parking for more private jets, suggesting there will never be enough to meet demand, Commissioner Michael Owsley said jets on the ramp at the airport are a sign of a thriving local economy.”For me, one of the indicators of community health is those weekends – Christmas, New Year’s – where you can count those jets out there,” he said. “I’m less concerned about Alternative C impacting the community. I actually see Alternative C as a reflection of what this community is.”Aircraft parking, one of the issues addressed in the master plan, affects efficient operation at the airport, according to McFarland. At busy times, aircraft parking is “very elaborately staged” and is a factor that leads to congestion and delays for both private and commercial planes, he said. There are cases of private planes dropping passengers off and flying and landing elsewhere to wait for a spot in Aspen or so its occupants can drive here.”As far as we can tell, nobody’s making the decision not to come to Aspen because of a crowded airport apron,” he said.Generating little support among commissioners was Alternative B, at a preliminary cost of $30 million, which would add a second fixed-base operator on the east, or Highway 82, side of the airport. There may not be space to meet all of the county’s minimum standards for a second fixed-base operator there, however, and the plan doesn’t meet the goal of adding another 193,000 square feet of aircraft parking area. It does provide some additional parking space.The airport has heard from parties interested in opening a second fixed-base operation at the airport. The existing fixed-base operator, run by Atlantic Aviation, sells fuel to both commercial and private aircraft and provides other services. Atlantic’s lease at the airport expires in 2023.The county isn’t required to identify space for a second fixed-base operator, but just because it’s not in the master plan doesn’t mean an interested party can’t propose development of something on the west side, commissioners were told. The airport consulting team is continuing to refine the alternatives and expects to return to commissioners and a public advisory committee in April with its next set of drawings. A public open house also will take place. Consultants are holding off on an in-depth financial analysis until a preferred alternative for the terminal and other facilities emerges. A series of community meetings on the master plan is scheduled to start in March, said Jim Elwood, airport director.Need and financing will drive whatever is eventually built, according to Elwood. Private interests that want to operate at the airport could play a role in building new facilities.The airport is financed by the revenues it generates, while its large capital improvements involve federal dollars. While the numbers associated with the master plan seem large, capital spending at the airport in the past decade has totaled about $135 million, McFarland email@example.com
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