Aspen can learn from past mistake
When the former Federal Aviation Administration general counsel spoke in Aspen on federal preemption last March, under which doctrine local governments cannot regulate air traffic, he stated that the FAA’s preemptive authority ends at the perimeter of the “air side,” so that a local government is free, for example, to limit the number of airport terminal gates if it so chooses.
Some of those involved in the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport’s vision process then seized on the concept of restricting the number of gates below the current number of seven (with space for eight) to “prevent unrestricted growth.”
The Airport Experience Working Group, however, after detailed expert presentation and discussion of the issue, recommended that there be “eight gates, with planned expansion as-needed in the design.” This recommendation was based on expert advice that “we don’t know how the carriers would respond” to such a restriction other than it would lengthen peak airport travel periods, seriously overburdening airport staff and negatively impacting traveler experience and, potentially, safety.
Bad ideas sometimes die hard, however, and the notion of limiting the number of gates in the new terminal keeps cropping up. The Aspen/Pitkin County Vision Committee should be wary of “gate control.” There has been no authoritative suggestion that gate control would “throttle growth” or reduce airport pollution and noise, and no evidence that it has worked anywhere else. None.
When Ed Holden built his lixiviation plant in 1891 on the west end of Aspen, that left no room for a straight in across Castle Creek to Main Street, so the bridge was built on the alignment of a side street, Hallam. Hence the accidental bottleneck called the entrance to Aspen. It would be a shame if in the process of re-imagining Sardy Field we created another well intended, but ill-conceived and ultimately self-defeating upper valley transportation bottleneck.
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