Airport Plays Message Blaming Private Planes For Delays
Any way you slice it, March 15 was a lousy Saturday for
travelers trying to depart Colorado's Aspen-Pitkin County
Airport... and passengers pointed a finger (you may guess
which one) squarely at general aviation as the cause.
Of 30 commercial flights scheduled to depart ASE that day --
mostly regional jets, making the short, 110 nm hop to Denver -- 14
were delayed, and two were cancelled outright. Most of the delayed
flights spent at least an hour on the ground, reports The Aspen
Times, though one SkyWest flight spent nearly seven hours stuck at
So, who was to blame? That depends on who you talk to. SkyWest
places blame squarely on the FAA, for its failure to have personnel
and equipment in place to handle a large volume of flights into the
airport's lone runway.
“It was related to Air Traffic Control, and out of the
airline’s control,” SkyWest spokeswoman Marissa Snow
And speaking of traffic volume... Saturday was also a "monster"
day, to quote the Times, for GA traffic flying into ASE. Stranded
passengers listened to a message, playing throughout the terminal,
that placed blame for the groundings on the high volume of private
Over 100 private planes also landed at the airport Saturday,
according to ASE officials. A private plane also slid off the
runway at one point, which closed the runway for over an hour.
“You’re causing a huge inconvenience for hundreds of
people who fly into Denver,” fumed Aspen resident Richard
Simpson, whose daughter was stuck at the airport for most of the
day. “I’d like to know what (Washington) DC’s
policy is, because in my opinion, you’re screwing over
hundreds of people by letting in extra private
FAA spokesman Mike Fergus took a magnanimous position, saying
during times of high flight volume it's first-come, first-served.
“An aircraft is an aircraft and there’s no preferential
treatment unless there’s an emergency, he said. “And I
can tell you that any delays were not induced by the FAA or Air
Curiously, Fergus also admitted the FAA did not enforce its own
slot restrictions at Aspen, which governs the number of flight
operations at Aspen during times of high traffic. Despite that
seeming error in judgment, Fergus said that was not a contributing
factor to the day’s travel hassles.
ASE Airport Director Jim Elwood points out despite the domino
effect of woes that snarled operations March 15, overall GA traffic
at Aspen is actually down 18 percent for the first two months of
2008. That could be due to snowy weather, though Elwood says it may
also signal a trend -- as private fliers chose to fly commercially,
or bypass Aspen outright.
“There could be a trend that is tying better commercial
service to fewer general aviation operations,” Elwood said,
referencing Frontier's plan to start flights to Denver next month,
offering competition to United Airlines, which a lock on that route
for years through SkyWest.
“With Frontier coming aboard, whether or not more (general
aviation users) will be interested in flying the airlines,
I’m not sure,” he said. “But I have heard a
number of general aviation (users) say that if we had good
commercial airline choices, in terms of available seats, that they
would leave their airplanes at home.
“It will be curious to see what happens.”