Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pitkin Board of County Commissioners OKs submission of airport analysis to the Federal Aviation Administration

The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the final environmental analysis (EA) for the proposed quarter-billion-dollar, two-pronged expansion of the Aspen Airport.

Specific components of the EA, almost three years in the making, include aircraft noise, air quality, climate, socioeconomic conditions and surface transportation, among many other things.

The two major components of the proposed expansion are an expanded runway and a new terminal building.

According to the EA, the plan, culled from 18 options, is to shift the airport’s lone runway 80 feet to the west, widening it to 150 feet and strengthening it to allow up to 150,000 pounds of landing weight.

All three of those components are necessary, according to the EA, to accommodate a new generation of jets that will soon replace the smaller planes currently landing at the airport.

“In 2014, under the Air Service Study, coordination with air carriers indicated that the existing aircraft currently serving Aspen Airport under the 95-foot wingspan restriction are being phased out of the commercial service fleet and being replaced by aircraft with larger wingspans and higher seat counts by 2028,” the EA states. “Other than the CRJ-700 which is being phased out, no existing or future aircraft meet three important criteria: 1) the 95-foot wingspan, 2) the current weight limit and 3) can operate out of Aspen Airport with the current airfield configuration.”

As far as the need for a new terminal, the EA states, “Despite previous terminal expansion measures in 1986-87, passenger demand at the Aspen Airport has outpaced facility capacity, putting a strain on facilities and roadways during peak activity periods. Also, the current use areas are not configured in an efficient manner, resulting in some spaces that are oversized and many spaces that are undersized to fulfill their intended function. As the building continues to age, the recurring costs to keep the facility in good repair will continue to increase without major investment in newer and more efficient building systems.”

A presentation team led by airport administrator John Kinney told the commissioners that there have been no commitments from airlines concerning actual aircraft types or flights.

Kinney stressed that the new regional jets that would be utilizing an upgraded Aspen Airport, though larger than planes currently using the airport, are generally quieter.

He also noted that there are a slew of federal regulations that cannot be usurped by local authorities, such as altering existing curfews, restricting flight paths, restricting the size or weight of aircraft within the 118-foot wingspan limit, restricting individual aircraft noise levels or developing local air-quality standards different from those established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The environmental analysis states that no significant noise or air-quality impacts would occur as a result of the proposed project relative to federal thresholds.

“Analysis looked at reasonably foreseeable conditions and fleet mix, including larger aircraft, and determined that no mitigation is required,” the EA states. “However, there are options to include potential non-required reduction measures, such as [a] noise wall, preconditioned air hook-ups, etc., in final design that could reduce noise. These elements would be examined during design phase. The airport cannot restrict aircraft from flying in and out of [Sardy Field], as it is a public-use airport.”

There were plenty of diverse opinions stated during the public comment period.

Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square hotel, stressed to the commissioners that, since the airport is the lifeblood of Aspen’s tourist economy, they should approve the process of forwarding the EA to the FAA.

Aspen Village resident Ellen Anderson disagreed, saying “it’s really time — past time — that Pitkin County had an honest discussion [about] how much is enough? How many beds, how much traffic on the highway, how many people coming through the airport? Because, heretofore, the answer has always been ‘more.’ I think it’s time we really looked at that and maybe consider that the answer is no longer ‘more.’ Because I’m kind of seeing that we’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

“The only place better than here is the place this used to be,” she said.

Phil Holstein, a member of the Woody Creek Caucus, said he feels that the airport expansion will negatively impact the quality of life in the Roaring Fork Valley for years to come.

Innkeeper Charley Case suggested that failing to upgrade the airport would put Aspen’s tourism industry at a competitive disadvantage. “If we can’t use modern, up-to-date aircraft, we will have second- and third-tier operators coming in,” he said.

Aspen developer John McBride pointed out that, when these proposed airport upgrades are completed, the airport will be done.

In the end, after stressing that submitting the EA to the FAA for consideration is not the end of what will surely be a long and arduous design and implementation process, the commissioners voted to do just that. 

Original article can be found here ➤

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