Jet tests size limit at airport |

Jet tests size limit at airport

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The latest incarnation of the Gulfstream jet is testing the definition of wingspan at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, but an initial approval for the aircraft’s local use has fired up critics who are questioning proposed future facilities at the airport, including large hangars to accommodate private jets.

The airport maintains a 95-foot limit on aircraft wingspan; the new Gulfstream 650 has an overall wingspan of nearly 100 feet, including the horizontal wings plus the “winglets” – wing tips that are tilted upward at an angle. Minus the winglets, the wingspan on the aircraft measures 93 feet, 8 inches, according to Gulfstream’s website. With the winglets, the overall span measures 99 feet, 7 inches.

The Gulfstream 650 has not yet received Federal Aviation Administration certification and is not currently in use anywhere, according to Jim Elwood, aviation director at the local airport, but Elwood said his initial assessment was that the jet would meet the airport’s regulations.

An online product brochure for the aircraft, incidentally, includes an aerial photograph of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport on a page touting the jet’s flight display technology and “enhanced vision system.”

Elwood has referred the wingspan issue to the FAA and will let the agency make the call on whether the Gulfstream 650 fits within the limitation.

“We stand by the 95-foot wingspan. It’s just ‘What is the definition of wingspan?’ is what we’re clarifying,” Elwood said.

The definition of wingspan is the distance from one wing tip to the other, an incredulous Cliff Runge said Friday.

“If it wouldn’t go through a 95-foot door, it’s not a 95-foot wingspan,” he said.

Runge, on behalf of the group Citizens for Responsible Airport Development, wrote a letter to The Aspen Times (see Letters) suggesting that local approval of the aircraft constitutes a “blatant disregard” of the wingspan limitation in place at the airport.

Runge was owner of Aspen Base Operations before the business was sold in 2006. The company was the fixed-base operator at the airport, selling fuel to private and commercial aircraft and providing other services. More recently, Runge and a partner, Andrew Doremus, proposed a second, smaller fixed-base operation at the airport that would focus on services for local pilots and demonstrate the viability of offsetting the sale of aviation fuel with alternative energy production.

His involvement in forming Citizens for Responsible Airport Development, he said, came after 18 months of involvement in a master-planning process that is refining plans for potential future facilities at the airport. The final master-plan proposal is expected to be ready for review by Pitkin County commissioners this summer.

Runge and Citizens for Responsible Airport Development have raised objections to the possible construction of large hangars on the west side of the airport, a 1,300-space underground parking structure and a new, 80,000-square-foot terminal, along with other facilities. The group is urging more public involvement in the master-plan process.

The wingspan of the new Gulfstream alone might not sound like a big deal, Runge said, but he contends the jet is representative of what’s driving the master plan.

“If you’re asking for a major expansion of the airport, then I think you’d have to agree that approving a $65 million aircraft with a 100-foot wingspan is sort of…’What’s driving what?'” he said.

For more on the airport master plan, go to For more on the issues being raised by Citizens for Responsible Airport Development, go to

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