Airport Board Takes First Step in Effort to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 30% by 2030

The main terminal at Aspen Airport on Sunday, June 19, 2022.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Pitkin County Airport Advisory Board recommended using a baseline of 2019 and 2020 greenhouse gas emissions when setting reduction targets.

The county government has an overriding goal to reduce emissions by 30% over the next seven and a half years in all aspects of its operations. The airport’s advisory board, at its meeting on Thursday, decided to choose a baseline so it could get to work on ideas to meet the target.

“Our role here in Aspen is to be a role model for the rest of the world,” said Auden Schendler, board member, senior vice president of sustainability and community engagement for Aspen Skiing Co. A A big way to achieve that goal is “to educate the people who pass through the airport,” he said.

When asked to elaborate after the meeting, Schendler said he believes the airport terminal should switch to all-electric power sources when it is replaced in the near future. When that happens, he wants everyone from ski enthusiasts to billionaires to know as they drive through Aspen-Pitkin County Airport that there is an all-electric terminal. As the grid becomes “cleaner” thanks to Holy Cross Energy integrating more renewable energy sources into its inventory, an all-electric terminal would significantly reduce its emissions.

“We desperately need to show that” to people passing through, Schendler said. “It should be in their face.”

While the airport terminal presents an educational opportunity, the key to reducing airport emissions lies in more efficient aircraft, Schendler said.

The advisory board received a briefing on Aspen-Pitkin County Airport emissions Thursday from a team from Mead & Hunt, a national consulting firm specializing in airport development.

One of the key takeaways for members of the advisory board is that emissions have not decreased significantly in 2020 compared to 2019 despite a drastic drop in the number of passengers loading aircraft, known as boardings in the airline industry.

Greenhouse gas emissions fell just 7.2% in 2020 despite lower boardings during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jen Wolchansky, senior environmental planner for Mead & Hunt. Her team double-checked the numbers because it was so startling, she said. They learned that the marginal decline was due to a 3.1% increase in airline operations in 2020 compared to 2019. While commercial operations were down, private operations increased during the pandemic due to affluent clientele of Aspen.

Greenhouse gas emissions for 2021 are not yet available.

Mead & Hunt’s presentation also made clear that an all-electric terminal will not meet the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030, which is not even close.

In 2020, airlines and general aviation and associated facilities accounted for almost 93% of the airport’s greenhouse gas emissions. Operations at public facilities, such as car rental companies, account for about 5% of emissions, while airport-owned and controlled operations, such as the terminal, accounted for only 2%.

These numbers made Schendler realize that getting more efficient commercial aircraft is the key to reducing the airport’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“A plane is a huge amount of emissions,” he said after the meeting.

An aircraft waits to board Sunday, June 19, 2022 at Aspen Airport.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Bringing more efficient aircraft into service at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport by 2030 is a tall order. Nonetheless, the majority of the airport’s advisory board supported establishing a baseline so the problem could be tackled. Schendler, Bruce Gordon, Meg Haynes, Rich Burkley, Rick Heede, and Mike Solondz supported establishing the baseline. The votes of board members Jackie Francis and Valerie Braun were not apparent at the meeting, which was a hybrid of in-person and remote attendance. Airport staff clarified after the meeting that Francis wanted to be taken as a no; Braun did not vote.

Airport manager Dan Bartholomew said Friday that the board will need to determine at future meetings which emissions to target and what steps to take to reach the goal. The council meets on the third Thursday of each month. Once he plots a course, he will forward his recommendations to the county commissioners.

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