Aspen airport studies runway extension

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Officials in Aspen Colorado have voted in favour in conducting an environmental assessment of lengthening the runway at Aspen/Pitkin County airport.

Pitkin County commissioners will vote this time next year on extending the airport's lone runway by up to 1,000 ft (304.8 m) to the south.

Located 7,815 ft above mean sea level and surrounded by mountainous terrain, the existing north-south runway carries some limitations.

Aircraft performance is limited by a combination of altitude and temperature, particularly in the summer, Pitkin County airport director Jim Elmwood says. The result is airlines cannot sell a sizeable amount of seats. Extending the runway will allow carriers to recapture those seats and the associated revenue.

A payload benefits analysis for SkyWest Airlines Bombardier CRJ700 service--the only regional jet currently operating at the airport--found an 800-ft addition would translate into 10,549 more sellable seats, results from a study by consultancy Barnard Dunkelberg & Company show.

Extenging the runway by 1,000 ft would equate to 13,294 more sellable seats, according to the study.

Lengthening the runway would also allow carriers to fly longer stage lengths from Aspen. However, Elmwood stresses larger aircraft would not be allowed to operate from the airport.

"Our community does not want large airplanes," he says, explaining the airport has a 95-ft wingspan limitation and a weight limitation of 100,000 lbs. "This extension is for takeoff only. [It] does not change length for landing aircraft."

Extending the runway by 800 ft could cost up to $19 million and the 1,000 ft addition could cost up to $22 million, according to conclusions of the Barnard Dunkelberg study.