Aspen airport public process heads into final weeks

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

The lengthy public process to determine what Aspen’s new airport might look like is heading into the final stretch over the next several weeks, officials said Friday.

Still to come this month at weekly public meetings of the Airport Vision Committee are recommendations — which will be presented to Pitkin County commissioners later this year — about the three most controversial aspects of the proposed airport project, said committee chair John Bennett.

Those topics include what the new terminal will look like, whether to widen and lengthen the runway to accommodate larger planes and what kind of planes might be flying into Aspen in the future, according to Bennett and two committee members.

“I think we’re doing something that’s really being missed by a large part of the community,” said Bennett, a former Aspen mayor. “It’s a radically different approach to airport planning.”

That approach began nearly a year ago when three subcommittees began focusing on different aspects of the project, including the terminal, the runway and airport transportation issues. Those subcommittees reported back and presented their findings to the 26-member Vision Committee in December.

Now, the Vision Committee must distill those findings into recommendations to the five-member Board of County Commissioners, who will make the ultimate decisions on what the new airport will look like.

The Vision Committee already has decided to recommend that commissioners limit airport growth to 0.8% a year, reduce greenhouse gases by at least 30% and reduce noise by at least 30%, Bennett said. Along those same lines, the committee also has decided to recommend the new terminal be net-zero, meaning it generates all the electricity it uses, and that energy efficiency in general play a key role.

“We want to electrify everything we can at the airport,” said Jackie Francis, a member of the committee.

They’d also like to find a way to emphasize to private pilots who fly into Aspen that specialized training is necessary for the area, Bennett said. Commercial airline pilots receive special training, which includes instruction on the tight approach, what to do in inclement weather and general information about flying in the mountains.

“There’s been a lot of accidents with private planes in the last half-century,” Bennett said. “We think (recommending private pilot training) would increase safety at the airport.”

Bennett, Francis and Meg Haynes, Vision Committee co-chair, on Friday wanted to emphasize to the community that no final decision on the airport have yet been made.

“It feels like the community is starting to get nervous and confrontational,” Francis said. “I’d like to see a little bit of turning down the heat.”

The Vision Committee’s big decisions about recommending terminal size and design, whether to move and lengthen the runway to accommodate a projected larger future airplane fleet and the type of planes that will fly into Aspen in the next few decades have yet to be made.

Those recommendations will be fleshed out every Thursday during February from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the county commissioner meeting room at the Pitkin County Building on Main Street. The meetings are open to the public.

Once the Vision Committee agrees on the recommendations — probably by the end of February or early March — they will be presented to the BOCC in report form. After that, commissioners will officially take up the issue and decide what the future of the new airport.

A new Aspen-Pitkin County airport is not likely to come to fruition for at least five years, officials have said.

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