Airline likely to admit Aspen airport curfew violations

A United Express airline prepares for boarding at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Tuesday.
Jeremy Wallace

American Airlines has indicated it will likely take responsibility for two curfew violations at the Aspen airport during the holiday season, a county official said Tuesday.

The likely admission means a public hearing on the violations scheduled for this afternoon at the airport has been canceled, said John Ely, Pitkin County attorney.

Instead, county officials will meet with American Airlines officials today, when a final decision about taking responsibility for the incidents will be made, Ely said.

Ellen Anderson, a resident of a development in the airport’s flight path, said Tuesday she was frustrated by the meeting’s cancellation.

“There is a culture of secrecy at the Aspen airport,” said Anderson, a tenacious advocate for the airport curfew. “I want a public hearing so I can ask questions.”

Airport Director John Kinney, however, said Tuesday he’s communicated frequently with Anderson about the issue.

“I don’t know why (she) would say there’s a level of secrecy (at the airport),” he said. “I have spoken to her several times on the phone.”

In fact, Anderson has been helpful in clarifying the original intent behind the curfew because she was around when it was created, Kinney said.

Planes must depart Aspen’s airport by 10:30 p.m., and arrivals must land by 11 p.m. The earliest a plane can land is 7 a.m. The only exceptions, according to those original intentions, are in-flight emergencies and planes with medical missions, he said.

For the past 10 years, airport staff also have taken weather into account when planes are delayed by strong head winds or air traffic control delays, Kinney said. But research by the attorney’s office backed up the fact that only those two factors can be taken into account in allowing a plane to land late, he said.

“She was right,” he said. “Her interpretation was the original intent.”

The subjects of today’s hearing were supposed to have been two American Airlines flights to Los Angeles that left late, Ely said. One plane left at 10:57 p.m. on Dec. 29, while the other took off at 10:56 p.m. on Jan. 1, Ely said.

Should American Airlines admit responsibility for the curfew violations, an independent hearing officer will determine a monetary penalty, Ely said.

Anderson said she reported the two incidents, along with another in August and a fourth Monday. She said she and others were looking forward to getting answers to questions they’ve been asking airport officials for months.

“I, for one, am disappointed,” Anderson said. “They’re not being cooperative.”

Anderson was not the only one feeling slighted Tuesday.

“It certainly feels like the sun will NOT shine on this issue which we feel very strongly the public has a right to weigh in on,” according to an email sent Tuesday from the Woody Creek Caucus.

Caucus members plan to bring up the issue during the yearlong airport expansion public outreach process, the email says.

“The system for reporting noise and curfew violations must be improved,” according to the email. “Communication must occur between the airport management and people who have filed a complaint.”

Kinney said he’s never attended a Woody Creek Caucus meeting, but would be happy to do so.

“When people ask me to call them back, I call back every single person,” Kinney said. “Can the system be improved? Of course.”

The airport received three noise complains and one curfew complaint in 2018, and one noise complaint and one curfew complaint so far in 2019, he said.

Asked for comment about the situation, American Airlines made no mention of the curfew violations or today’s meeting.

“We meet regularly with Pitkin County officials, and have discussions on various topics that impact our operation and customers,” according to the one-sentence email response from the airline.