Pilots flying into Aspen’s airport during the evening hours will notice a change starting tonight.
The Federal Aviation Administration has reduced the operation hours for Sardy Field’s air-traffic-control tower to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Before today, the hours had been from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Jim Elwood, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, said pilots approaching and departing during the non-tower hours will communicate with an air-traffic controller in Denver.
“There won’t be a person looking out of the glass here physically, but communications will still take place with the aircraft,” Elwood said.
FAA officials could not immediately provide an official reason why the hours are being reduced, but one FAA employee said that his understanding was that the airport simply is not busy enough during that time of night to staff the tower.
Likewise, Elwood said the FAA, through the course of analyzing the aircraft traffic from 8 to 10 p.m., explained that the “number of aircraft coming in was below their criteria.”
In March, the FAA said 149 towers would be closed to shore up sequestration funding cuts of more than $600 million. Two months later, however, Congress approved a bill to keep the towers open. Elwood said it was his understanding that the sequester did not play a part in the FAA’s decision to trim hours at the Aspen airport.
Elwood said the county has asked the FAA for periodic reviews of the new hours. The county was apprised of the change a few weeks ago, Elwood said.
The airport’s curfew is 11 p.m. for arrivals and 10:30 p.m. for departures.
American and United airlines serve the Aspen airport, combining to provide direct flights from Chicago, Denver, Houston and Los Angeles. On Wednesday, the last day under the 15-hour operation of the tower, three commercial arrivals were slated between 8 and 10:34 p.m., and no departures were scheduled after 8 p.m.