FAA grant means airport can fly through improvements | AspenTimes.com

FAA grant means airport can fly through improvements

Naomi Havlen
As a jet lands on the main runway, crews from Elam Construction flatten new asphalt on the Aspen Airport taxiway Thursday afternoon. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Officials at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport are rejoicing over a recent grant from the Federal Aviation Administration that will allow several improvement projects at the airport to be completed sooner than anticipated.It also means the county can start researching the possibility of extending the runway to lure other airlines to Aspen sooner rather than later.The lengthy list of projects to be completed can be found in the airport’s master plan, an outline of 20 years’ worth of capital projects.Work is currently under way at the airport to increase the separation between the runway and taxiway from 221 to 320 feet.

Other projects include the construction of a new Aircraft Rescue Fire building and the rehabilitation of the runway itself.Until recently, it was estimated that this work would extend well into 2009. But after working with the Federal Aviation Administration extensively, airport officials learned last week that the FAA was willing to put more money “on the early side of the plan” than was expected, said airport director Jim Elwood.As a result, the current taxiway separation component of the project – initially estimated to take about three or four years – should be finished by the end of next year, or about one-and-a-half years total.Elwood attributes the FAA’s willingness to help push these projects forward to the airport’s and community members’ intensive work.”I think when a community has a clear goal, the FAA feels good about helping the community reach those goals for safety-, capacity-driven projects,” Elwood said. “They want to expedite these projects because their [the FAA’s] mission in life is to make airports as safe as possible.”

To Elwood, the funding means that the airport will be safer, sooner. “In the airport business we look at airports as safe, but we’re always trying to make them more safe,” he said. “Our airport doesn’t get the full impact of safety improvements until they’re all completed. If we can get them done in half the time, we’ve made a big step.”Pitkin County Commissioner Shellie Roy was thrilled with the FAA’s decision.”The federal government acting sane and rationally? It’s such a coup,” she said. “What it’ll do is solve a lot of the airport’s problems by 2006 rather than dragging it out to 2008 or 2009. It might even put us in a good situation to attract other airlines.”According to Elwood, the Board of County Commissioners will now be able to launch an environmental impact study on lengthening the runway in hopes of attracting new airlines to Aspen.

And once the safety projects are completed, “we can get on to other projects that may be more tangible to the community – terminal modification and runway extensions,” Elwood added. “We’ll be in a better position for these other choices – improvements that can be contemplated by the community.”Elwood also noted that the $13 million project currently under way is on time and under budget; additional money will be reinvested into future work at the airport.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com