Tours offer look at Aspen airport facilities |

Tours offer look at Aspen airport facilities

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Members of the public have a chance for a behind-the-scenes look at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Friday and again next week as part of an ongoing effort to plan future facilities there.

The tours have been arranged for an Airport Master Plan Study Committee, a 44-person group that is acting as a “sounding board” for airport staff and consultants to help shape a new airport master plan, but there is room for members of the general public to tag along, as well.

The tour is a chance to see more than the typical traveler flying in and out of Aspen sees, but it also provides a glimpse into some of the deficiencies, particularly in the terminal building, that are driving the discussions about what the airport needs in the coming years. And, tour participants get to take a spin on the perimeter road that rings the runway – an area typically accessed only by people wearing security badges.

Those badges, in fact, represent but one challenge facing a terminal building constructed in stages between 1976 and 1987 – increased security. From passenger security screening to handling the personnel and pilot security clearance requirements that went into effect a couple of years ago, the terminal is short on space, noted David Ulane, assistant aviation director, leading one of Thursday’s tours.

“In the course of three months, we went from about 200 people having badges to about 800 people,” he said. That security mandate took effect in May 2009.

The Transportation Security Administration has added a room onto the terminal where baggage that is checked onto commercial flights is screened, but there is no functional conveyor system to carry the bags from check-in to the screening machines. They’re carted in and hoisted by hand.

The two conveyor belts that serve passengers waiting to pick up their luggage can’t keep up when the airport’s busy, and the seating area for passengers who have been checked through security and are waiting to board is also overwhelmed when multiple flights are scheduled to depart. Travelers complain that the food and beverage service in that area is insufficient, as well, Ulane noted.

“No matter what, we’re going to have to do something with this building,” he said of the terminal.

The building is about 45,000 square feet in size, but its use dictates the need for a building of closer to 60,000 square feet, based on Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, Ulane said.

Enplanements – the number of people who boarded a commercial flight in Aspen – totaled 227,784 last year, up 3.7 percent over 2009. Overall aircraft operations last year totaled 37,603 – down 5.5 percent from 2009.

Calls for a new terminal, though, were tempered by public sentiment to retain the existing building’s cozy feel during a series of public meetings, or charrettes, held in January.

“We’re hearing, you need to be big enough to operate efficiently, but keep the intimate, small-town feel of the airport as much as you can,” Ulane said.

Discussions have pointed at the rental-car area to the south of the existing terminal as the site for a potential new terminal, with a subgrade parking garage at the site of the present terminal, topped with a layer of surface parking.

Some master plan committee members and pilots have pressed for more hangar space (the airport has just two enclosed hangars at present) and a second fixed-base operator, or FBO. The existing FBO, Atlantic Aviation, handles aircraft fueling for both commercial and private aircraft.

There has also been discussion about what, if anything, should be located on the west, or Owl Creek Road, side of the airport, where a new operations facility was constructed several years ago. If hangars are placed there, a new taxiway on that side of the runway would be necessary.

A planned extension of the runway, adding 1,000 feet to its south end, is expected to go forward this spring. Everything else is up for discussion, to be outlined in a draft master plan that will be ready for public review by late summer, and adoption late this year.

There are no cost estimates yet for potential new facilities; an estimated price tag for a parking garage will come first, according to Ulane.

The master plan committee, which held a kickoff meeting in December, is scheduled to meet again March 14 to hear the observations that came out of last month’s public charrettes. County commissioners will be updated on the master plan work on March 15.

In the meantime, airport tours are scheduled today (Feb. 11), Monday, and again on Friday, Feb. 18, at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. E-mail to reserve a spot on a tour.

Go to to keep tabs on the process as it unfolds. The results of the charrettes are posted there.

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