FAA allocates $9.1M for runway project at Aspen | PostIndependent.com

FAA allocates $9.1M for runway project at Aspen

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Pitkin County on Thursday received a $9.1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing the planned extension of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway to proceed this spring.

The money isn’t exactly a surprise. Airport officials have expected that the funding would be forthcoming since a $1.6 million allocation for the project was granted by the FAA last year.

“With a lot of variables at play, between acts of Congress and other circumstances, we’re always pleased to have the grant actually in hand,” said Jim Elwood, county aviation director.

“We’d heard it was coming,” he added. The FedEx package containing the grant agreement arrived yesterday.

The $14.5 million project will be funded with a combination of FAA, Colorado Division of Aeronautics and airport capital reserve funds. That sum includes $13 million for the runway. The remainder of the cost, to be paid by the airport, reflects the hookup of Buttermilk Metropolitan District homeowners to city of Aspen water. The district has been served by wells that will be capped to make way for the longer runway.

“This was the long-anticipated good news we’ve been waiting for,” Elwood said in a press release issued Thursday afternoon.

The 1,000-foot extension at the south end of the runway (the Buttermilk end), will allow aircraft to take off with more passengers and fuel and fly to more distant destinations. Commercial aircraft have historically operated at less than full capacity when taking off from Aspen, especially in the summer when higher temperatures limit aircraft performance at the airport’s high elevation.

The runway extension won’t alter existing limitations on the size of the aircraft that can fly in and out of Aspen – the airport can’t accommodate more than a 95-foot wingspan or 100,000-pound landing weight, the county noted.

“When the runway extension is completed this fall, the commercial airlines that operate out of our airport will be able to operate at higher capacities. This will not only make our airport more attractive to competing airlines, it will make it possible for us to offer more direct flights and carry more passengers on existing aircraft,” Elwood said in the press release.

Construction will begin April 4, starting with utility relocation. The extended runway is expected to be finished by November, in time for the 2011-12 ski season.

No shutdown of the airport is planned for the construction, but the work will require six days in the fall when the runway length will be reduced to 6,000 feet. SkyWest, which operates United Express, won’t be able to operate on those days, according to airport officials.

In addition, navigational equipment located at the south end of the runway will be off-line for 45 days, starting Sept. 7. The shutdown of the localizer, which guides pilots on their approach to land, has the potential to affect United flights when visibility is poor.

SkyWest is already working with the FAA and the community on options to provide travelers with reliable service when its aircraft can’t get in and out of Aspen, according to spokesman Wes Horrocks. Use of alternate airports and ground transportation will be part of that plan, he said Thursday.

The airline will also be letting passengers know about the potential implications associated with the project well in advance, Horrocks said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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