A different idea for the Aspen airport

The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport has several disadvantages. First, of course, is the fact that it is located near the end of a narrow, mountainous valley and there is not enough land to build another runway or even extend the existing one. Second, the airport is often the victim of harsh mountain weather, sometimes causing the cancellation of flights or even diversion of landings to Denver or Grand Junction, for example. Lastly and particularly because of the first two concerns, the airport operates with take offs and landings in opposite directions, unlike most airports anywhere in the world, which can be dangerous.

A plan to spend around $400 million to move the runway 80 feet west (Bringing the flight path nearer to Shale Bluffs) and to build a new terminal up to the size of almost two football fields will not change any of the above three concerns.

Perhaps a better, safer idea might be to leave the existing airport as it is and improve another airport nearby in Rifle to be better able to serve as an alternative and a partner to handle large commercial as well as private aircraft to Aspen, the Roaring Fork Valley and the whole region.

The Rifle-Garfield County Airport is safer than Aspen. It is in a much bigger, flatter valley. It has a 7,000-foot-long east-west runway, resulting in landings and take offs in the same direction, usually to the West. It is 2,378 feet lower than Aspen, resulting greater lift, i.e. shorter take offs and landings. The runwayis already constructed to handle much larger commercial aircraft like 757s and 777s. Finally, the Rifle Valley typically has better and clearer weather than the Roaring Fork Valley.

I would think for much less money we could develop another secured commercial airport with a tower, a terminal and a transportatoin system to the Roaring Fork VAlley. There would be no need to tear up a perfectly good runway and build a new terminal. Aspen could operate as before, probably without planes the size of 737s and Rifle could serve locals and tourists alike probably with better consistency and lack of cancellations. In fact, Aspen, the Roaring Fork Valley and the area from Glenwood Springs to Battlement Mesa could be way better served with two airports, one at each end.

Most airports expand where they are. Aspen really can’t. But with the new relatively empty airport at Rifle, maybe a different and unique form of growth could happen. I believe this form of expansion may be more cost effective and safer that what’s being contemplated at Aspen today.

John McBride