With an advisory committee now in place and a consultant chosen to help create a new development plan, redevelopment efforts at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport are beginning to pick up speed after a slight downturn attributed to the pandemic .
The new ASE Airport Advisory Board, whose members were chosen late last year by Pitkin County commissioners, has been meeting monthly since January. The seven-member volunteer Board of Directors is responsible for looking at broad airport issues and making recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners, including redevelopment of the terminal building and airside infrastructure such as than the runway and the taxiway.
Officials acknowledged there were some early issues with in-person attendance and meeting technology — typical issues with a board starting from scratch — but system issues are being worked out. The possible inclusion on the board of directors generated a lot of interest last year, as 75 people submitted applications – a figure considered extremely high and rare in the community for a voluntary and advisory role with local government.
Recent board presentations and discussions have revolved around a new initiative: the creation of an “airport development plan,” which airport and county officials regularly refer to as ALP. It is a forward-looking document that paints a picture of the possible future of the airport. He is said to be instrumental in securing Federal Aviation Administration approval and money for airport redevelopment projects the county hopes to undertake over the next decade-plus. many of which will make the ASE (the three-letter FAA identifier for the airport) a Class III facility, capable of accommodating larger aircraft with greater wingspans.
The ALP is expected to take 12-18 months to complete, according to recent board discussions. Jacobsen Daniels, a Michigan-based consulting firm that has handled planning services for airport projects in numerous cities — including Miami, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta — is now on board to help the county forge the plan. A consultant from Jacobsen Daniels made a presentation to board members and answered questions at their last meeting on May 19.
The plan will take into account many common ground recommendations from ASE’s visioning process, a county-led, community-wide “visioning effort” that began in early 2019 and will continue. is completed in mid-2020. These discussions, involving more than 100 participants serving on five committees, led to a detailed review of the BOCC and the adoption of Resolution 105 of December 2020, which generally goes along with the recommendations, but includes various amendments and updates. keep.
For example, there were some recommendations that the marshals did not quite agree with, such as widening the runway to 150 feet and greater separation between the runway and taxiway centrelines. , which would involve moving the taxiway. These projects would be required to achieve Class III airport status and allow commercial and private aircraft with a wingspan greater than 95 feet to use the airport. The impetus behind the ASE Vision process was the need to widen the runway to accommodate such aircraft, given the anticipated retirement of the CRJ 700, the commercial jet currently flown by the three airlines serving the Aspen market.
On these particular objectives of the ASE vision, the commissioners added the following preface: “Continued work in the proposed airport development plan will not be approved by the County Board of Commissioners until negotiations with the FAA and/or the airlines and other partners, or clear and convincing evidence in an updated fleet composition study, indicates that only cleaner, quieter, aircraft of a certain size will serve ASE .
Airports, however, are not permitted to discriminate between aircraft types as long as the aircraft used meet the facility’s basic classification criteria. Time will tell, but the desire to ensure that only certain types of commercial aircraft fly in Aspen could end up being a sticking point with the FAA and the airlines themselves.
Runway and taxiway issues were by far the most controversial aspect of the recommendations, given outcry from a vocal minority that these airside changes and Class III facility status will usher in large, noisy aircraft such than the Boeing 737s which further deteriorate the upper valley. small town character” and transform Aspen into a “cruise ship style” resort destination. County officials and some board members, who fully support the recommendations, are quick to say that the 737s are not suitable for ASE due to Aspen’s high-density altitude, which makes more difficult for planes to gain altitude for takeoff during the summer months. However, the Airbus A220 is one model that ASE Vision officials and participants have identified as potentially the commercial jet of the future for the local airport.
As a precondition for the approval of what is known as ‘Recommendation 12’ – the objective which concerns the ALP and a move towards Class III – the commissioners also require a ‘fleet composition study’. commercial airlines, which will in part evaluate the current use of the CRJ 700s and the types of aircraft that can be used to replace them in special markets like Aspen. Jacobsen Daniels will be responsible for the fleet composition study as part of his work on the layout plan.
The BOCC resolution also says the county must negotiate with airlines and the FAA to reach agreements that ASE will be served by aircraft with significantly lower emissions than the CRJ-700. They should also be quieter than the CRJ-700.
Additionally, the aircraft must have a maximum takeoff weight limit of 140,000 pounds and a seating limit of no more than 100 to 120 passengers. The CRJ-700 typically has around 70 seats. To date, these negotiations have yet to take place as airlines have been busy responding to challenges in the post-pandemic travel market.
Deputy County Manager Rich Englehart, who works with the county-owned airport and Airport Manager Dan Bartholomew, pointed out last week that while the process is happening from the perspective of the vision process ASE and Resolution 105 of 2020, many years of planning and approvals await before the dirt is transformed. In addition, Common Ground recommendations call for terminal redevelopment to be addressed before airside improvements.
“The bottom line is that we are at the beginning of this process; the pandemic has put things on hold,” Englehart said. “And we have an advisory board that’s going to be heavily involved in what’s going to happen here. We are just getting started.