Airlines serving Aspen airport navigate financial turbulence | AspenTimes.com

Airlines serving Aspen airport navigate financial turbulence

Naomi Havlen

One more airline that regularly serves Aspen filed for bankruptcy two weeks ago, meaning two of the three major air carriers here are in financial straits.Northwest Airlines, which flies between Aspen, Minneapolis and Memphis, announced its bankruptcy earlier this month. It joins United Airlines, which flies between Aspen and Denver multiple times every day, in bankruptcy protection.The third carrier with local ties, America West (flying between Aspen and Phoenix), recently merged with US Airways, an airline that successfully emerged from bankruptcy protection earlier this month, allowing the two airlines to merge, said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a travel booking agency.Tomcich acts as a liaison between airlines serving the Aspen airport and the local travel industry. He has seen more than a dozen airlines file for bankruptcy during the past 15 years but said it still causes him some concern about local air service, since under bankruptcy protection, airlines may withdraw from contracts.Even so, he said Thursday that he has more confidence in larger airlines getting back on their feet than smaller ones – like Aspen Mountain Air and Mountain Air Express, which folded in 1997.”Every time a bankruptcy has involved a major carrier, like Continental, America West or United, service has generally continued on as status quo,” Tomcich said. “And so far, as in the case of US Airways, they have restructured themselves and ultimately have successfully exited Chapter 11.”United Airlines has assured the Aspen airport and Tomcich that its service would continue unabated through this ski season, even though it announced earlier this year that Air Wisconsin would no longer operate its regional flights, including flights between Denver and Aspen. The large airline has not yet announced who will take over the route after April 17, 2006, but has assured Tomcich in the past that the route is a valuable one.Needing the same assurance from Northwest Airlines, Tomcich traveled to the company’s headquarters in Minneapolis on Wednesday, along with Aspen airport Director Jim Elwood.”We left for Minneapolis with a lot more questions than answers, and we came back feeling comfortable with the answers we received,” Tomcich said. “Northwest does remain committed to the market, and the flight schedule we have for this winter season mirrors last winter season. We have assurances that passengers can continue to book those flights with confidence.”Tomcich said Northwest has stated publicly that it hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection a healthier airline, as does United.”I feel good about our situation given the circumstances [of the airlines being bankrupt],” Tomcich said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com