FBO Contract Negotiations in Aspen Spark Contention

Incumbent FBO Atlantic Aviation has beaten out other contenders, drawing criticism from some in the local and GA community.

While negotiations are ongoing, the county still has final authority to reject all bids and take back control of the FBO. [Credit: Shutterstock]

Atlantic Aviation has entered contract negotiations after beating out seven other contenders securing the sole FBO spot at Aspen Pitkin County Airport (KASE). However, not all are on board with the county’s decision to give up local control.

According to the county, the selection process was based on several criteria: approach to FBO services at KASE, a financial proposal, environmental goals for the airport, ability to finance and build new FBO facilities, development plans for the airfield, and past performance and industry experience.

Ultimately, Atlantic Aviation—the incumbent FBO—was chosen for the long-term lease. Atlantic Aviation, which is headquartered in Houston, currently operates 106 FBOs nationwide. Its current lease expires September 30.

In the request for proposal, the county stated that the selected FBO would be responsible for the operation and management of 32 tiedowns, 48 bay patio shelters, rental car services, and parking, along with the terminal, hangar, and fuel farm already operated by the FBO. The county also stated the new proposal would prioritize community involvement at the airport.

Several Pitkin County residents expressed the desire to keep the airport services under local control and hope that county commissioners would direct staff to take on FBO management themselves. Others were upset over the lack of community input. In an Op-ed published in the Aspen Daily News, Janet Mohrman, a local resident, wrote, “Allowing public comment after the contract is all but signed is not public comment, only public reactions to a 30-year, multimillion-dollar contract that was an under-the-table deal.”

Other constituents have voiced their frustration in being shut out of the process entirely. Robert Rubey started a petition advocating for local control of the Pitkin County Airport including dedicating the north ramp to local general aviation. 

“Let locals separate themselves from the Atlantic lease. Revenue generated from a locally administered North Ramp could provide a new training center, hangars, new patio shelters and self-fueling facilities,” Rubey noted in his petition.

Aspen Fly Right—a vocal nonprofit, has expressed its concerns with talks to allow for bigger aircraft at the airport. Currently, general aviation makes up roughly 80 percent of operations on the field while commercial aviation accounts for 20 percent. Bombardier CRJ-700s make up the vast majority of commercial aircraft flying into Aspen, but those are nearing the end of their lifecycle with estimates showing another 10 to 30 years of commercial viability.

Should the county decide to invite bigger aircraft, they would need to adhere to FAA rules on wingspans and make some airside improvements including expanding the runway/taxiway separation for aircraft. The FAA made it clear to county commissioners and the Airport Advisory Board that it would withhold discretionary funding until the airport widens the separation to allow for aircraft with up to 118-foot wingspans.

“We have not been saying bigger planes are inherently bad, and we shouldn’t have them,” said Aspen Fly Right president Amory Lovins. “We’ve been saying it’s premature to decide whether we need them.”

Lovins also said the money could be recouped by the county running the FBO since all money generated within the airport must be used for airport purposes.

While negotiations are ongoing, the county still has final authority to reject all bids and take back control of the FBO.

A community open house will take place on May 11 where the airport and advisory board will answer public questions on airside renovation and the FBO process.  

Amelia Walsh
Amelia WalshContributor
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter