Vagneur: One takeoff we don’t need |

Vagneur: One takeoff we don’t need

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur

Picture the idyllic scene, my mother on the lawn in front of the house, framed by large cottonwoods, frolicking with her sister and having lunch on the ranch house veranda. That was her family’s homestead where she spent her youthful summers, the one we call the Airport Ranch to differentiate it from other family holdings. 

Today, it’s called, by declaration of the 1950s Board of County Commissioners, Sardy Field. For the benefit of those new folks in town who may not know, Sardy was Tom Sardy, local hardware store owner, lumberyard proprietor, mortician, and strong supporter of turning what was then a gravel runway into an asphalt ribbon that tourists and locals could safely use for their aircraft. Otherwise known as Aspen/Pitkin County Airport.

It’s changed a lot since those simpler days — or what we like to think of as simpler, and if you’ve been keeping up, it seems to get more complicated every day. Runway expansion, new terminal, enough right there to boggle the mind, and arguments on all sides. From comments found online and on the street, it would appear a majority of the citizenry is against the runway expansion but might not mind the idea of a new terminal. 

Don’t forget the 2-to-1 trouncing that runway expansion took in the 1995 special election. 

You realize, no doubt, that only 17%-18% of the airport traffic is commercial — the rest is general aviation, or private. So, on the very bottom end of the conversation, it would appear we are subsidizing general aviation, for the benefit of … ? Oh yeah, there are those pesky chain stores and other assorted businesses who likely write off their plane expense, their time here, including skiing, as business costs. Living the dream. Plus, all the others who like to come in and out on their own schedule, and who can blame them? 

They pay to park, to fuel up, to land or take off, and FAA participation aside, we’re looking at a potential $500 million county fund contribution in improvements for both air side and land side. How long is it going to take to mitigate that bill? Any way you look at it, taxpayer money is on the line.

There are a couple of concerns that don’t seem to get much public discourse, one of them being the location of the airport. Thanks to age-old mountainous geography, there is the ever-present potential for unannounced wind to funnel out of the Owl Creek Valley, providing a strong cross-wind to runway aircraft. If you think back to a recent wreck at the airport, that is most likely what caused the April 2 “runway excursion” of a business jet to spin off the runway.

High-altitude flying can be different than at lower elevations, and on warm summer days, the air above the Earth becomes warmer and less buoyant, than say at 12,000 feet. Coming in for a landing from the higher altitude, the incoming aircraft may experience an unexpected and drastic drop in altitude, causing it to unceremoniously flatten as it hits dirt in town, Shale Bluffs, Buttermilk, or anywhere else in the vicinity of the landing zone. 

The idea promulgated by some that pilots flying into Aspen should be educated on the unforgiving dangers of flying into the most dangerous airport in the country seems to have great validity. The above two examples should be enough to overcome objections to such required training. 

Just recently, a study was commissioned by Aspen Fly Right to examine the number of dangerous particles in jet engine emissions at the “prepare for take-off” end of the runway. Preliminary testing confirms dangerous particles and clearly indicates the need for more testing. 

Imagine flying (or driving) here for a family vacation, enrolling your children in ski school at Buttermilk, unaware that for the youngsters, their lungs will be filled with hazardous chemicals while they begin to learn the exhilarating sport of skiing. Courtesy of jet fumes from the close-by airport. Not everything you take home with you is in the suitcase.

More housing development at Burlingame? What parent would want their child (or themselves) to be exposed to such poisons, day after day, for simply living in the wrong place? At some point down the road, the city may end up paying for serious disabilities traced to jet exhaust.

Let’s end this paradigm of accommodation and support for growth and development at any cost. Just say no.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturday and welcomes your comments at