Lake County mulls airport’s potential |

Lake County mulls airport’s potential

Aspen Times Staff Report
Aspen, CO Colorado

LEADVILLE, Colo. ” On New Year’s Day, Lake County Commissioner Mike Hickman was at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, watching the private jets and commercial aircraft come and go on one of the resort’s busiest travel days.

“I just wanted to get a feel for what their traffic was on their heaviest flight day of the year,” Hickman told The Leadville Chronicle. “Every five minutes, there was a jet taking off or a jet landing. You have to contact Aspen six months in advance to be able to land on that day.”

Hickman said he spent the day trying to figure out how to bring some of Aspen’s air-traffic overflow to the vastly underutilized Lake County Airport, the Leadville newspaper reported.

One big hitch: the quickest route from Leadville to Aspen is via Highway 82 over Independence Pass, which is closed during the winter months.

Hickman reportedly broached keeping the 12,095-foot pass east of Aspen open year-round; the Colorado Department of Transportation told him it could keep the road plowed and control avalanches, but doesn’t know how to keep people from driving off its steep drop-offs during whiteout conditions. In perfect weather, the drive between Aspen and Leadville takes roughly 90 minutes.

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According to the Chronicle, Hickman also looked into the possibility of expanding an existing tunnel that cuts beneath the Continental Divide and links Lake and Pitkin counties ” it’s now used for intermountain water diversions, but is barely large enough to accommodate one vehicle at a time.

In the meantime, it appears the Lake County Airport has potential to become a regional destination on the far side of Independence Pass.

According to a 2004 study done by the Airport Development Group, some 4.5 million resort visitors and other travelers come to Lake County and nearby Summit County (which does not have an airport) each year. Of them, about 27 percent ” or 1,215,000 visitors ” travel by air to a nearby airport and take ground transportation to their final destination, the Chronicle reported.

A review of what occurred when the Eagle County Regional Airport started up suggests that 33 percent of those 1.2 million visitors would fly to Lake County, were the option available to them, according to the newspaper.

The study also noted that no less than six ski resorts are located 40 miles or less from the Lake County Airport ” a factor that could create additional demand.

At present, however, the Lake County Airport does not have a terminal, a way to lease hangar space to prospective lessees, or an on-site car rental agency. In fact, it doesn’t even have sewer and water service.

The 2004 study also outlined the need for a larger apron for aircraft and a longer runway, the Chronicle noted.

The Lake County Airport does have a fixed-base operator; Lake County commissioners have decided to retain an attorney to help them work through lease issues involving that operator, according to the newspaper report.

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