Airport to spend $350K to prevent taxiway wanderers

by Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

The Aspen airport has budgeted $350,000 for an “intelligent video system” aimed at stopping people in the private plane parking area from wandering into the path of taxiing aircraft.

Airport director Jim Elwood said wandering travelers have been a persistent problem at the airport, and a potential threat to passenger safety.

Recently a passenger exited a private plane with a dog and walked it across the taxiway to a grassy knoll to relieve itself. It’s a relatively common issue at the airport, though it’s caused no major incidents.

Last year, airport officials enlisted the help of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to curb the issue. The FAA recommended the camera system, which will automatically track deplaning passengers in the area.

The infrared video system, he said, will alert airport staff that people — or animals — are moving onto the taxiway, so airport personnel can intercept them.

“It will give an early warning notice that maybe someone is headed somewhere they shouldn’t be,” Elwood said.

The conflict has arisen since the FAA required the airport to move its taxiway 100 feet eastward. When it was moved in 2006, a patch of grass was paved over that had previously served as a barrier between the parking/hangar area and the taxiway for private planes. Now there is no such barricade except for a line painted on the contiguous swath of pavement.

The actual runway, where planes take off and land, remains separated from the taxiing strip and hangar.

“I think it’s a visionary decision … we are trying to be innovative,” Elwood told the county commissioners Tuesday of the video system.

The commissioners OK’d the request as part of a $962,440 in specific new “buy-up” spending for the airport in 2012.

The other items were an extra $474,000 for maintenance of the expanded airfield, $90,000 for painting text and lines on the runways, and $48,000 for extra cleaning and custodial staff.

Regarding the last item, Elwood said complaints had been lodged about the cleanliness and appearance of the terminal.

andrew@aspendailynews.com