When the full summer commercial airline flight schedule starts at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport today, a familiar friend will resurface.
Three of the nine daily flights from Denver to Aspen on United Express will be on the Bombardier Q400 aircraft, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass and the local business community’s liaison with the airline industry. The turboprop aircraft was used at the Aspen airport by Frontier from 2008 until it stopped service in April 2012.
United Airlines has contracted with Republic Airlines to operate three of its daily United Express flights between Aspen and Denver this summer through Sept. 19, Tomcich said. SkyWest will continue to operate the other United Express flights on its CRJ700 jet aircraft. The SkyWest ground team in Aspen will handle all baggage operations, according to Tomcich.
Ironically, Republic will now operate United Express flights into the Aspen market that Republic once abandoned. Republic’s presence in Aspen via Frontier ended in April 2012 as part of an overhaul of its service out of Denver.
Republic acquired Frontier Airlines out of bankruptcy in 2009. Republic announced in the late winter of 2010 that it intended to phase out the fleet of 11 Q400s it acquired in the deal. However, the carrier kept some of the turboprops for service to Durango and Hayden, according to Tomcich. He said at least one Q400 that was used to serve Aspen by Frontier would be used for Republic’s United Express Service.
“From my perspective, this is welcome news, as it introduces another aircraft type capable of operating at (the Aspen airport) with a separate set of (Aspen airport) qualified flight crews, who have been training for many months for this,” Tomcich said in an email.
The Q400 is known as the “green machine” for its fuel efficiency. It also is capable of handling some wind and high temperature conditions that create challenges for the CRJ700, according to Tomcich.