Passenger fees of more than $23 million have helped cover Aspen airport expenses

Since its local implementation in 1995, passengers flying commercial to and from Aspen are on track to pay more than $23 million in fees that have funded or will fund improvement projects and expenses at the airport. 

The airport’s latest use of the Passenger Facilities Charge (PFC) is for nearly $3 million in funds to reimburse it for the already-purchased four mobile passenger boarding ramps, snow-removal equipment, and the passenger exit lane from the terminal building.

“We’ve already done the work, but we’re paying ourselves back using the Passenger Facility Charge,” Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Director Dan Bartholomew told the Board of County Commissioners during a work session on Tuesday. 

The funds would be collected from the commercial carriers that use the airport. The PFC is a $4.50 fee that airlines charge per flight segment on a trip, with a maximum of two segments on a one-way trip and four segments on a roundtrip. That maximum amount fliers can pay for a roundtrip is $18, or $9 one way.

Aspen-Pitkin County Airport has imposed the fee on the airlines — which was established through Federal Aviation Safety and Capacity Expansion Act of 1990 since July 1, 1995, according to online records from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The facilities charge originally was $3 and stayed that way until May 1, 2003, when it was increased to $4.50, the maximum allowable amount under FAA rules. 

The airport must submit an application with the FAA for approval to release the funds. Before that application advances to the FAA, however, the airport needs the county board’s approval. That comes next on Jan. 25, when the board is scheduled for a first reading, and Feb. 10 for a public hearing and final approval. 

“What that does, it goes into a bank basically that the airlines holds, and we can use that for certain projects at the airport,” Bartholomew told the county commissioners. “Usually, we try to reserve these for projects that either are not grant-eligible for some reason or another, but they are FAA-eligible projects.”

The latest application would be the airport’s 12th for use of PCF revenue, according to his presentation to the county board this week. The airport previously has received $20.6 million in PCF funds to cover 11 other expenses since 1995. 

The current PCF dollars requested would cover the county’s $290,100 spent on four passenger ramps; $1,726,443 for the acquisition and replacement of two pieces of airfield snow-removal equipment; and $765,139 for parking hardstand to accommodate larger aircraft.

“The nose and main gear locations on the ERJ-175 aircraft are slightly different than those of the currently used CRJ-700 aircraft, for which the parking positions were designed to accommodate,” Bartholomew said in a memo to the commissioners.

The airport also is seeking PCF money to reimburse it for the $145,591 spent to install a secure passenger line from the terminal building into the unsecured baggage-claim area, and another $43,751 toward consultant costs.

“The existing aircraft parking hardstands do not accommodate Embraer ERJ-175 aircraft, which will be used with increasing frequency at the Airport,” the memo said.” Replacement of asphalt in these areas with PCC will preserve the integrity of the air carrier aircraft parking apron pavement.”