Airport flights violate curfew
December 23, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Three flights at Aspen Pitkin/County Airport broke the strict 11 p.m. curfew Friday, but the violations allowed more than 400 travelers to get home for the holidays after weather delays, said a Stay Aspen Snowmass official.Sardy Field has a strict curfew to limit noise and visual impacts on the valley from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. And while breaking the curfew usually means hefty fines for offenders, airport officials gave the OK to two Aspen-bound United Express flights from Denver to land in Aspen at 11:28 p.m. and 11:39 p.m. One of those crafts turned around and departed for a non-stop flight to San Francisco at 12:13 a.m., more than an hour past the curfew.Many of the people waiting for those connections waited for 6 to 12 hours, officials said.Friday night’s flights not only allowed those passengers to arrive at their destinations, but cleared room in a backlogged schedule for Saturday, the busiest day at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport since 1998 with 27 arrivals and departures.”It took Denver International Airport the better part of one day and a half to reopen,” said Bill Tomcich, director of Stay Aspen Snowmass, an independent booking agency for the Aspen area. And while airports were open by Friday at noon, flights were backlogged and departures from Denver were limited.”I applaud SkyWest and United Express for making those decisions,” Tomcich said. “They allowed at least 400 people to get where they needed to go for the holidays” despite having to break the curfew.A flight from Salt Lake City to Aspen was in a similar bind Friday. Awaiting passengers from delayed flights from around the county, planners for the Aspen-bound Salt Lake flight decided to take off early, stranding some passengers who did not arrive in time to catch the connection. But the Salt Lake flight made it to Aspen before the curfew.”I hope the community understands the circumstances,” said Jim Elwood, director of aviation at the airport.He called the circumstances of Friday’s late flights extremely rare, but said he gives his shift supervisors the latitude to make such decisions, especially in extreme weather and high-traffic conditions.”We’re very pleased with how things are going today,” Tomcich said. Saturday saw three outbound cancellations and two inbound, and all flights were fully booked.Stay Aspen Snowmass handles reservations in the area, and while Tomcich prepared Aspen properties for mayhem, he said it has all worked out. Even with a number of late arrivals and cancellations, Tomcich said area properties have been very accommodating. There was a lot of juggling of reservations, but most visitors were able to make arrangements or came away with vouchers for another trip.”Hopefully in a few days, the struggles and frustrations of the last week will be a distant memory,” Tomcich said.