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Aspen Airport Gets $3.4 Million In Federal Emergency Funds

Alex Hager
Aspen Public Radio

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is receiving about $3.4 million in federal emergency funding. It is one of 49 airports across the state to receive a portion of nearly $367 million allocated to Colorado by the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA. The funding is part of the nationwide Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

John Kinney, the airport’s director, said operations have been reduced by about 90% amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“You could throw a bowling ball in any direction right now in that airport and not hit anybody,” Kinney said.

This time last year, the airport had about 10 commercial flights per day and 30-40 corporate aviation flights. Now, there are only two or three commercial flights, and many days have no corporate aviation activity. 

You could throw a bowling ball in any direction right now in that airport and not hit anybody.

Flights often arrive and depart with single-digit passenger loads, and some carry no passengers at all.

“Six to eight is a busy aircraft flight,” Kinney said. “Which is obviously just pathetic from a financial perspective, but understandable from a public health perspective.”

The airport has seen reductions to a bevy of its revenue streams – parking, airline fees and fueling fees. The federal money will be used to offset that lost revenue, and Kinney said there are no plans for workforce reductions.

Despite the steep drop offs in activity, the airport still has operating costs to maintain those lower levels of operation. Firefighting, snow clearance, maintenance and limited customer service staff are still at work to accommodate the few flights that do arrive and depart. That includes occasional medical flights, which can be planned on short notice.

Airports are planning for disruptions to normal volume for anywhere from one to three years. When they bounce back up, Kinney said one airline projected a “new normal” in which operations are only 80% of what they were before the pandemic. 

Kinney said the amount of federal funding allocated to each airport is based on passenger onboarding statistics from 2018. Eagle County Regional Airport will receive about $3.3 million, and Rifle Garfield County Airport will receive $69,000.

Alex is KUNC's reporter covering the Colorado River Basin. He spent two years at Aspen Public Radio, mainly reporting on the resort economy, the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, he covered the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery for KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska.
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