The Jan. 5 crash of a private jet at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport has had no measurable effect on visitor bookings of flights or lodging, a local tourism official said Tuesday.
“I’ve seen no noticeable negative impacts from the accident and the ensuing airport closure,” said Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the area’s liaison to the airline industry.
The crash, which occurred amid a period of high winds at 12:23 p.m. four Sundays ago, resulted in one death and two serious injuries. Three people were aboard the plane, a 22-seat Bombardier Challenger 600. All were identified by authorities as male Mexican pilots.
The airport was closed for the entire afternoon and evening just after the crash and all of the next day. It reopened for business on the morning of Jan. 7, although some flights were canceled that day.
The National Transportation Safety Board began its investigation on Jan. 6 while the airport was shut down. The full investigation is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
A few board members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association mentioned that the accident intermittently at their meeting Tuesday morning, mostly to report that it seemed to have no impact on visitors. Some words of respect also were spoken for those who suffered because of the tragedy.
Tomcich later told The Aspen Times that the total number of outbound commercial airline passengers affected by the airport’s closure on Jan. 5 and 6, or by further flight cancellations on Jan. 7 when the airport reopened, was a little more than 3,400. In all, 57 commercial flights were impacted, he said.
But when hotel occupancy reports were released on Jan. 15, they revealed that the number of Aspen and Snowmass Village room occupancy numbers rose a little in the days after the accident compared with the same period last year, but not much: 5 percent in the Aspen market and 2 to 3 percent in the Snowmass market.
“That suggests to me that there were some people who ended up extending their stays, but the volume wasn’t a massive, massive number,” he said.
Travelers wanting or needing to get home were resourceful in finding ways out of town, renting cars or using shuttle services, Tomcich said. The airlines serving Aspen also got involved by hiring buses to take passengers to other airports in Grand Junction and Denver.
Tomcich was a member of the local incident-management team that worked to sort out information and relay it to the media and the public following the crash. Few details were forthcoming in the hours after the accident or on the following day, when law-enforcement, safety-board and airport officials held two separate news conferences at the airport.
Tomcich said there’s a good reason for that.
“In hindsight, I think a lot of lessons were learned there by a lot of folks about how things could be handled better in a specific event or a crisis situation,” he said. “We’re challenged to disseminate large volumes of information to a lot of people in a situation that is ever-evolving.
“One of the challenges that I know I certainly experienced during the episode (as well as other officials) was the information kept changing so quickly. By the time we were about to post an update, all of a sudden the information would change. It was changing so rapidly that a lot of folks were really reluctant to say anything about what might be happening, particularly that Sunday evening.”