Pitkin County Commissioner candidates Q&A: How do you feel about the Aspen/Pitkin County airport expansion?
pitkin county race
The Aspen Times published a five-day series with the five candidates for Pitkin County commissioner. Here are the topics addressed:
Monday: What are your views on growth in Pitkin County and should it be slowed, increased or stay the same and should house sizes be capped?
Tuesday: What, if anything, should be done to increase affordable housing in Pitkin County? Do you think APCHA is being run and administered properly and what would you like to see done differently?
Wednesday: Do you support efforts to widen the runway to accommodate larger airplanes? What is the most important issue to consider in planning the new airport?
Thursday: How would you rate Pitkin County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? How would you contribute to on-going efforts to counter the effects of the pandemic if elected?
Friday: What is the gravest and most important issue facing Pitkin County today?
For more on the 2020 ballot, go to aspentimes.com/election.
Editor’s note: This series is the launch of our 2020 election coverage for the upcoming Nov. 3 election. This is day three of a five-day Q&A with the five Pitkin County commissioner candidates. For more information on the 2020 ballot, go to aspentimes.com/election.
There are five candidates running for three Pitkin County commissioner seats.
Current Board Chairman Steve Child, a Capitol Creek rancher, is running for his third term for District 4. Former Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board member Chris Council, a Snowmass Village resident and local photographer, is running against Child.
In District 5, Francie Jacober, a retired teacher and Prince Creek Road resident, faces Jeffrey Evans of Basalt, a longtime proponent of finding a solution to the Entrance to Aspen. The seat is open because Commissioner George Newman is term-limited and will step down after three four-year terms.
Greg Poschman, a Brush Creek Village resident, is finishing his first term in District 3 and is running unopposed.
For day three, the topic is the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport expansion (with a 200-word limit):
Do you support efforts to widen the runway to accommodate larger airplanes? What is the most important issue to consider in planning the new airport?
Future aircraft will be quieter and more fuel efficient than those of today. A favored (by designers) method to increase fuel efficiency is to increase wingspan. A greater wingspan requires a wider runway.
People fear a wider runway on the assumption that it will accommodate larger airplanes. Larger airplanes are presumed to have more seats. It is not clear why more seats per airplane is a bad thing, or why this new ratio would cause more people to come to Aspen. But that appears to be the fear that might prevent the future use of better aircraft.
The recommended location of the new runway/taxiway scheme creates the need to replace the terminal (desirable anyway?), but also shrinks the area available for that new facility.
The biggest flaw in the plan is this: “Consideration should be given to a variety of mass transport possibilities including light rail, monorail, gondola and greater utilization of RFTA, if feasible.”
Door to door transportation is the preferred option for traveling to and from an airport; mass transit has a minimal role to play. World-class hospitality requires a terminal design which will allow vehicle drivers back inside the building to properly greet the community’s guests.
Recent articles by Amory Lovins and a group of 43 concerned citizens certainly cast a different light on the Airport proposals. The ASE Vision Committee proposal is well-presented, well-researched, and very persuasive and it speaks to the efficiency of new planes with less air and noise pollution. But it was created before the dramatic reduction in air travel due to COVID. With 90% of our current air traffic representing private aircraft, and an uncertainty about when commercial air travel will return to normal, this may be a good time to pause. A focus on the terminal itself and improved ground transportation are not contested. Given that these projects will take years to complete, perhaps we can focus on implementing them right now. If we had a commitment from commercial airlines to converting from the current CRJ 700 to a more efficient plane, such as the Airbus A220-100 with 51% less CO2 emissions and 3.6 fewer decibels, and we were assured they would fly those planes into Aspen, then we could move forward with a runway that would accommodate them. For now, let’s take John McBride’s advice and focus on education for pilots about the unique challenges of the Aspen skies.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated disruption of the air travel industry, the immediate about building a wider runway can pause. I do not support the goal of bringing significantly larger aircraft to our mountain valley, but I recognize the need to accommodate the changing fleet of aircraft that will serve us in the future. I’m a skeptic about our community’s ability to dictate fleet types and service levels to the airline industry or to the FAA. We now have more time to watch, plan and respond to the market and changing aircraft technology. In the next decade, airlines will be flying aircraft that are lighter, less polluting, more energy efficient and quieter, and they will have wider wingspans. To maintain a functioning airport with useful connections out of the valley, we will eventually need to widen our runway.
The most important issue: safety. While futurists envision new forms of air travel, the mountains and mountain climate are unforgiving when it comes to technical problems, weather events and human error. Equally important is quality of life for the people of Pitkin County, who have every right to demand a healthy environment, fewer crowds, clean air and quieter aircraft.
As a commissioner, I am involved in a rigorous analysis of the ASE Vision Committee recommendations which indicate that we need to widen the runway and increase the runway/taxiway distance by 80 feet. I am generally in favor of following that recommendation, with specifics such as location and timing of construction being key parts of the decision to be made. This would greatly improve the safety of flying into our airport, while accommodating the new generation of regional aircraft such as the Airbus 220-100 which is quieter and more fuel efficient than the current aging fleet.
The most important issue is to ensure that commercial air travel can continue to bring in the visitors who we need to sustain our tourist economy, while improving safety, and lessening the environmental impacts of noise, air pollution, a high carbon footprint, and congestion on our roads, all which are having a significant negative impact on our local residents and visitors.
I believe a fully operational commercial airport is the key to the long-term vitality of our community and it is imperative that we take the necessary steps to ensure the airport’s future.
Expanding the runway and the airport improvements are not an overnight process and could take up to 10 years to complete: so even if the CRJ-700 has a longer lifespan than previously thought, we need to begin to take action now.
I strongly support the ASE Vision Committees recommendations to widen the runway. I believe the county now needs to commission a technical report by aviation experts to fully vet the pros and cons of the working group’s report. The county should also begin to negotiate with the airlines on their future fleet mix so we can set a maximum weight standard for the runway. This process could potentially allow us to prevent aircraft that are not suited for our community, such as the 737.
Climate goals such as emissions reduction, safety, noise and appropriately sized aircraft for our valley are all intertwined; therefore, all these issues must be considered for the longevity of the airport and so that it supports future generations while maintaining community values.
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