One of four ASE Vision subcommittees recently held an eleventh-hour meeting to draft a final report that calls into question a sister-committee recommendation that the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway should be widened to accommodate planes with a larger wingspan.
Members of the Community Character Working Group reconvened on Dec. 27, less than a month after three other subcommittees issued their final presentations on local airport redevelopment issues at the Aspen Meadows. The group had released an interim report in October suggesting that all the other subcommittees should look at issues through a “community character lens” and growth impacts related to safety, air quality and noise.
Community character group member Bill Dinsmoor said Monday the Dec. 27 report represents the group’s final conclusions. He said that members felt it necessary to meet after the ASE Vision subcommittee process was largely completed to state its conclusion on whether the Technical Working Group, which primarily dealt with air-side expansion issues, had looked through the “lens.”
The report is critical of the claim by airport and county officials that the expansion question needs to be addressed now, rather than years from now, because the CRJ-700 aircraft currently serving local commercial flights is headed for retirement and the next generation of jets to replace it has wingspans greater than 95 feet, the current limitation at the airport.
“The [technical group] report implies that the community is in danger of losing commercial service to ASE. The fact is that this is an extraordinarily lucrative market, and each time the community was told that we were in imminent danger of losing our commercial service, the airlines have miraculously responded,” the new report says.
According to the community character group, local residents were informed during the early 1990s that the commercial aircraft serving the Aspen market at the time, the BAE 146, was on its way out. It actually flew until 2006, when the CRJ-700 was introduced locally, the report says.
“We are now being told that we will lose the CRJ-700, likely by the late 2030s. It is the conclusion of the [community character group] that it is far more important for the community to take the time necessary to identify and address the current impacts of airport operations on air quality, noise, existing infrastructure and growth, among many other topics, than it is to be rushed into a decision based on fear, rather than one that history and logic dictate,” the new report states.
Dinsmoor said the new document was completed in time to be considered by the overarching ASE Vision Committee, which will be meeting this month and next to develop an official set of airport-redevelopment recommendations to be considered by the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners. In addition to the runway and wingspan issues, the report also addresses other aspects of the technical subcommittee’s conclusions.
For example, the report notes the community character group adopted the goal of a 30 percent reduction in overall airport emissions by aircraft and facilities. However, the technical group “proposes to measure emission reductions primarily by monitoring fuel sales,” with the goal of a 30 percent reduction in that area, the report says.
“In the event fuel sales do not decrease by 30 percent, the [technical group] recommends that the county participate in a carbon offset program. Since a carbon offset program will have no effect on local emissions from airport operations, it is entirely inconsistent with the recommendations of the [community character group],” the report states.
And, on the question of noise, the community character group adopted the goal of a 30 percent drop in noise intensity from airport operations. However, the technical group’s report relies on the belief that the next generation of jets serving Aspen will be quieter, another claim that the community character group questions.
“Some of the aircraft potentially capable of operating at ASE under full air-side development without the current [95-foot] wingspan limitation and no weight limit restrictions have significantly higher noise profiles than the CRJ-700,” the new report says.
Officially, only five of 14 subcommittee members approved the new report, but Dinsmoor said it represents the group’s majority. Only six subcommittee members were able to attend the meeting during the holiday week, and one of those, Aspen Skiing Co. director of community engagement Michael Miracle, abstained from voting.
Facing a time crunch, the community character subcommittee focused on the findings of the technical group and didn’t weigh in on the conclusions reached by two other subcommittees that dealt with ground-transportation matters and the overall airport terminal experience. Broadly, the subcommittees have reached a consensus that the terminal building is lacking and either needs to be enlarged or replaced to handle future growth in local air travel and also to improve the customer experience.
Dinsmoor said the community character group had a mission of developing its recommendations in advance of the other groups to supply the “lens” that would guide the subcommittee process. That job was difficult, he said, because of the lack of baseline information supplied to his group relating to greenhouse-gas emissions, noise and other impacts of the local airport on the community.
That’s why the subcommittee, in October and in the new report, has recommended that the air-side expansion question be put on hold pending further study and the accumulation of better data, he said.
Pitkin County officials were passive with regard to the group’s desire to reconvene in late December, Dinsmoor said. In the end, members just took it upon themselves to meet again to go over what the technical group had recommended, he added. Cindy Houben, the county’s director of community development, facilitated the final meeting.