Funds to extend Aspen airport runway may be on tap |

Funds to extend Aspen airport runway may be on tap

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Funding for all or part of a $14.4 million runway extension at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport could be available before the end of the month, prompting emergency action by county commissioners on Wednesday to accept the money.

The federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30, triggering quick action by the commissioners to accept a Federal Aviation Administration grant through an emergency resolution.

“We’ve been told by the FAA that we should be able to accept money,” said Jim Elwood, director of aviation at the local airport. “It’s always nice to get calls from the FAA that say, get yourself ready.”

Local airport officials weren’t sure when funding would become available when county commissioners approved the runway project in July. But Aspen’s project is poised to move up the funding list if other airport projects aren’t ready to go as the federal government’s fiscal year wraps up, Elwood said.

It is too late to tackle more than preliminary work on the runway project this fall, according to Elwood, but the project could be finished by the fall of 2011 if the grant funds – up to $14 million – are allocated this year.

Closure of the airport won’t be necessary for the runway project. Work that could occur yet this year includes relocation of utilities and work to replace the Buttermilk Metropolitan District well system. The metro district is currently served by wells on the south end of the airport that must be capped as part of the project. Negotiations have been under way to connect the district to city of Aspen water. The water issue must be resolved before runway construction, Elwood said.

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Resort officials have been crossing their fingers for extension of the runway sooner rather than later, hoping the longer runway makes it possible for a broader variety of commercial jets to fly in and out of Aspen.

“It will open up options to airlines that weren’t available because of our runway,” said Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airline industry.

Aspen was bracing for service from just one airline – United – this winter after Frontier announced in July that it would pull out of the market at the end of September because it would no longer have the fleet of Bombardier Q400 turboprops it has used for regional service to locales such as Aspen. Its parent company, Republic Airlines, didn’t have a jet it could make work in Aspen. Ultimately, Frontier/Republic wound up retaining enough of the Q400s to extend service between Denver and Aspen through the fall and winter.

Delta, however, won’t return to the Aspen market this winter.

An additional 1,000 feet, to be added to the upvalley end of the runway, isn’t aimed at accommodating larger aircraft, but rather, more types of regional jets. A longer runway is expected to ease weight restrictions that force airlines to limit the number of passengers an aircraft can carry.

Bids for the runway project were opened Sept. 9, according to Elwood’s memo to the commissioners. The apparent low bidder was Concrete Express of Denver. The bid, one of two received by the deadline, is still being analyzed, Elwood said. The cost of the project, however, has come down from the previously estimated $17.5 million.

The FAA will fund 95 percent of the project with money from taxes it collects on fuel, airfare and freight. The airport will fund the rest out of its revenues.

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