Panel set to plan future Aspen airport facilities | AspenTimes.com

Panel set to plan future Aspen airport facilities

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Courtesy Aspen-Pitkin County AirportA master plan update will provide a blueprint for future facilities at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

ASPEN – A group charged with helping plan new facilities at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will include members who have a financial stake in the outcome of the process.

County commissioners OK’d the makeup of the master plan study committee last week. The broad-based group, including representatives of business, government entities, airport business interests and the public, is scheduled to hold its first meeting Dec. 9. The group will look at the existing terminal and other facilities at the airport, and act as a “sounding board” for airport staff and consultants to help shape the plan.

Representatives of existing business concerns at the airport, including Atlantic Aviation, the fixed-base operator; SkyWest Airlines, Hertz and Netjets, for example, will have a seat at the table. So will a representative of DOM Pacific Jet Aviation, which would like a hanger at the airport, and A-J Aviation, which wants to become the second fixed-base operator at the facility.

“It just seems so self-serving,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, questioning the makeup of the committee and the apparent conflicts of interest among some of its members.

Jim Elwood, airport director, acknowledged the interests and told commissioners the group’s membership is purposefully inclusive.

“In the end, we kind of came to the conclusion that we’d have all the perspectives on the table,” he said. “One of the challenges to the group is, if someone has a financial interest, please state it to the entire group.”

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The rules governing the group’s deliberations, in fact, specifically require members to declare any financial interest or conflict of interest to the committee.

“If you can manage it, I can agree with it,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, though he urged Elwood to ask Carbondale and Glenwood Springs governments if they’d like representation on the panel, as operations at the airport affect those municipalities, as well. Basalt, Aspen and Snowmass Village will all have representation on the committee.

The Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and neighborhoods near the airport are also among the interests represented on the panel, as is the Federal Aviation Administration.

Though the group will focus on future needs, current trends will be part of the picture.

Though commercial enplanements are up 4.4 percent this year through October, total aircraft operations – including commercial and general aviation flights coming in and out of the airport – are down about 4.6 percent through September and have been in decline for a decade, according to Elwood.

The airport’s 2011 budget calls for revenues of about $7 million – a number that is heavily dependent on airline and general aviation revenues, Elwood said.

“Do I think we’re in a critical place in the next five years? No,” he said.

However, other airports are more diversified in their revenue stream, including retail and restaurant operations, hangar leases and other enterprises, he said. The master plan committee is expected to discuss those sorts of opportunities, according to Elwood.

Future needs for an airport terminal will be among the study issues. The existing terminal, which airport officials have already termed outdated, is lacking in sufficient room for baggage claim and increasing security requirements, among other issues.

A parking garage is also contemplated in the airport’s future plans, and a 5 percent increase in parking rates will go into effect next year, as rates have not been increased since 2006.

The first piece of the airport’s master plan update, related to extension of the runway, has already been approved. Construction is expected to begin next year.

The master plan study committee’s deliberations will be open to the general public.

janet@aspentimes.com