Aspen Skiing Co. CEO pitches airport expansion
As Aspen Skiing Co. continues to expand its footprint — from mergers and acquisitions to more skiable terrain and a new hotel in Snowmass Village — it also is banking on the proposed expansion of the local airport.
Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan made no qualms Thursday about the company’s support for a bigger airport.
“If you look at what things were like in 1995 — the aircraft technology was very different, airport operations were different, security requirements were very, very different,” Kaplan told the crowd at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain at the annual pre-winter gathering staged by Skico and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “All of these standards have changed, but the airport has not.”
In 1995, Pitkin County voters, with a boost from the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, shot down a proposal to lengthen the runway at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport to accommodate Boeing 737 jets.
Kaplan acknowledged the expansion is certainly not a done deal and the debate will get louder, but Skico also isn’t licking its chops over the possibility of a longer runway and bigger terminal.
“We’re not in the background going, ‘Yeah, yeah, 737s.’ That’s not it,” he said, adding that he hopes what he called an “important community dialogue” will result in civil discussion and a “fact-based approach” over the proposed expansion.
Kaplan’s comments came as debate in the Aspen community once again is intensifying over Pitkin County’s plans to relocate and widen the runway and build a new 60,000- to 80,000-square-foot terminal; the existing terminal spans 47,000 square feet. The talk has picked up recently in the wake of the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of its environmental assessment of the project, with an estimated cost of $350 million to $400 million.
The airport currently is served by regional jets, Bombardier CRJ700s, through three carriers: American, Delta and United. Nonstop routes currently include Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver and Salt Lake City. Other markets have included Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
Expansion advocates note the runway must be moved 80 feet to the west and widened from 100 feet to 150 feet to handle the new fleet of regional jets with larger wingspans, which the FAA also has mandated, airport director John Kinney has said. The airport currently can allow up to a 95-foot wingspan; the expansion would allow as wide as 118 feet, which means so-called Class 3 aircraft could serve Sardy Field.
Opponents argue that a larger airport will create the demand for more services that Aspen isn’t equipped to handle. Other concerns are the continued expansion of a community that already is stretched by traffic and housing demands.
Yet Kaplan said Aspen’s history is tied to the airport, starting in the late 1940s, when the “world’s leading luminaries and thought leaders” couldn’t get here because there was no airport.
By December 1948, the airport had opened, just in time for the Goethe Bicentennial celebration in July 1949.
“The conversation has been going on a long time,” Kaplan said.
On Monday night, the City Council listened to ideas for each old building. However, nothing laid out what the community space would actually entail — only aspirations and gathered community comment.