Control tower

A jet flies over the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport’s control tower this week. Candidates for four committees that will help to steer the scope of future upgrades at the airport will be presented to Pitkin County commissioners on Jan. 22-23.

The project team that is coordinating the process for determining the “next steps” for upgrades at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is evaluating 116 candidates for the four committees that will help steer the process toward a concrete plan, team members said Wednesday.

The team will recommend an as-yet undetermined number of committee members to Pitkin County commissioners on Jan. 22-23. Commissioners will be asked to provide direction with regard to the makeup of the committees at that time, said Kathleen Wanatowicz of PR Studio.

“We’re working through it internally right now, reviewing applications and sorting people,” she said. “We had a great number of interested parties, high-quality applicants and a huge diversity in terms of levels of experience and industries. We even had a high-school student who applied to be on the [overarching] committee.”

PR Studio is working as a subcontractor under North Carolina-based Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., a transportation planning firm the county recently hired to oversee the upcoming phase of project planning. Melissa DuMond of Kimley-Horn said the national company has offices in Snowmass Village and Denver, and is currently working with PR Studio and other members of the project team, including airport and county officials, on this year’s “community engagement” initiative that will ask the public what it would like the airport to be 30 years from now.

“Kimley-Horn is the umbrella over subcontractors it will manage to get the work done, so that the airport doesn’t have to do it all themselves,” DuMond said.

She added, “Part of the effort of the program manager is to scope out and identify next steps. The program management team will take on that oversight and develop a strategic plan for moving forward. Under that program management team we have sub-consultants that will be doing a lot of specific subject-matter expertise.”

Aside from PR Studio’s work on the community engagement process this year, other subcontractors will be needed in the areas of financial management, regional economics, aviation forecasts, airport facility requirements, construction phasing and more, DuMond said.

“It’s a fairly typical approach [in airport project planning] to hire a program management team to help you tactically and strategically think through what investments make sense over what time period and to hire subject-matter expertise which would be diverse,” she said.

In October, the airport, county and PR Studio announced the need for volunteers to the committees that will work on the “ASE Vision” process. ASE is the Aspen airport’s three-letter code used for airline flight management, baggage handling and other official transportation-industry purposes.

The deadline for applying to participate in the committees was Dec. 14. The overarching committee, focusing on “overall project development,” will be called the Airport Visioning Committee, and could include as many as 20 and 25 members. Reporting to that committee will be three smaller “working groups” focusing on the stated areas of “community character,” “technical topics” and “airport experience.”

A launch event for the visioning process will be held on Feb. 6 from 4-7 p.m. The location hasn’t been determined. The committees will start meeting soon after the launch, and public presentations to gather general community input are expected to begin in April, Wanatowicz said.

Conceptually, the airport’s future plans revolve around a runway project and construction of a new terminal. If realized, the price tag could be as much as $400 million, with federal grants expected to contribute over $150 million to the runway. It would represent one of the largest infrastructure initiatives on the Western Slope since the development of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.

Among other impacts, the airport may shut down for two straight months or longer, perhaps during a fall or spring off-season, to accommodate construction. The improvements would allow larger commercial jets, with bigger passenger loads, to access the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration in July approved the final environmental assessment for the airport’s proposed runway and terminal improvement projects, finding that there would be “no significant impact” to the environment from redevelopment. The FAA’s notice, according to airport officials, clears the airport to shift its runway 80 feet to the west, widen it up to 150 feet and strengthen it to allow up to 150,000 pounds of landing weight.

Expansion proponents say a wider runway is needed to usher in a new generation of jets with wider wingspans that will replace the smaller planes currently landing at the airport, which currently restricts aircraft with wingspans greater than 95 feet. The newer jets, project supporters have said, are more efficient than the current CRJ-700s serving the airport’s commercial passengers.

In a letter posted online in mid-December, airport director John Kinney spoke of how the air-service industry is constantly changing and evolving — suggesting that the Aspen airport has to respond to such changes and keep up with the times.

“Yes, air-service demand is growing but, that is only one piece of the discussion,” he wrote. “Changing governmental requirements for operations, safety and security; aircraft technology and efficiency improvements; changing demographics, customer service and amenity expectations; airport systems and technology improvements; and increasing sustainability expectations also are driving modernization and renewal at airports around the world.”

The airport’s existing facilities “are out of date and out of step with the global evolution of the air-service industry,” Kinney continued. “The facilities do not meet many federal operations and safety requirements; local sustainability, connectivity and mobility goals; customer-service expectations; air-service operational requirements; and modern systems-technology requirements. The aging facilities also are inefficient, difficult to maintain, costly and do not provide a customer experience that reflects the character or sense of place of the community.”

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Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at