Aspen Airport director: New passenger terminal possible within 4-5 years

Travelers exit the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport after landing in town on a snowy afternoon on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Construction on a new passenger terminal at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport could begin in four to five years if all goes according to plan, the facility’s director said Thursday.

And while that that might be a big “if,” the timeline is possible, said Dan Bartholomew.

“There is no reason I can foresee … that shouldn’t allow us to do that,” he said.

Bartholomew presented a timeline Thursday to members of Pitkin County’s Airport Advisory Board, and it focused on near-term, mid-term and long-term development of the airport over the next 15 years. In addition to building a new terminal, the airport will likely re-jigger the airfield, rebuild and possibly relocate the tower and probably move the fixed base operations area to the other side of the runway based on a plan adopted by Pitkin County commissioners.

“There are gonna be some pretty big, complex issues,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said. “It will take some time to get those done.”

The biggest near-term project is development of a new airport layout plan based on the numerous “common ground” recommendations adopted by the county board in December 2020, Bartholomew said. That plan will serve as a master guide for the airport’s redevelopment.

Airport officials expect to work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with the layout plan, he said, which is a far better option than coming up with a plan independently and risking the FAA not liking it. If that occurs, it jeopardizes the airport’s ability to access federal grants.

“We will work with the FAA as partners,” Bartholomew said.

Another key near-term project is repaving the runway, he said. The current pavement is approaching the end of its approximately 20-year lifetime and is beginning to crack and show subsurface “distress,” he said. A major rehabilitation will likely occur in 2024, though the airport will be closed for two weeks in May for necessary runway rehabilitation this year.

Mid-term development — the next two-to-seven years — will include design and construction of a new terminal and tower and redevelopment of the FBO facilities, Bartholomew said. The FAA cares less about the terminal than the airfield and has already preliminarily indicated they might not want to move the tower, said Bartholomew and Peacock.

However, the tower is in the way of the proposed taxiway relocation, is 50 years old and does not allow controllers to see the end of the runway, Peacock said. Still, the FAA isn’t unreasonable, Bartholomew said.

“If the FAA says no to something, there’s no reason we can’t push back,” Bartholomew said. “As long as it’s not a hard and fast safety issue, we can usually find common ground with the FAA.”

In the next seven to 15 years, or the long-term, airport officials expect to begin construction of the new FBO facility, reconstruct the taxiway and widen the runway from 100 feet to 150 feet, he said.

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