Airport passenger numbers decline |

Airport passenger numbers decline

The number of passengers boarding commercial aircraft in Aspen tumbled almost 7 percent in 2004 over the previous year, mostly because of reduced winter service by United Express.About 13,000 fewer passengers boarded in Aspen during 2004 than in 2003. The number dipped from 195,122 to 181,851 last year, according to statistics from Aspen airport director Jim Elwood.That has implications for the upper Roaring Fork Valley’s tourism as well as the airport’s budget. The airport collects passenger facility charges based on boardings to help pay for capital improvements.Elwood said the biggest factor in the drop of passenger boardings was a decrease in the seat capacity in and out of Aspen by United Express.”[Last] year United cut their capacity by 22 percent,” he said.The airport was fortunate not to see its numbers drop by an even larger amount, given United’s capacity dropped so severely, he said. Northwest and Mesa posted modest gains.Three airlines serve Aspen, but as United Express goes, so goes the airport. About four out of every five passengers flying out of Aspen flies United Express.United Express’ passenger boardings dropped 10 percent in 2004 even though its seat capacity fell by 22 percent.Most of United Express’ reductions came during ski season. Its passenger boardings, also called enplanements, fell by double digits in January, February, March and April.United Express offers daily flights between Aspen and Denver as well as seasonal nonstop service between Aspen and Los Angeles.For 2004, Aspen’s next biggest operator, Northwest Airlines, saw a slight increase in enplanements. Northwest’s passengers increased 1.2 percent from 17,108 to 17,320.Northwest operates nonstop service during ski season to Aspen from Minneapolis and Memphis. The airline is poised for significant growth this year because it will resume summer service from Minneapolis.Mesa, which teams with America West for nonstop service between Aspen and Phoenix year-round, saw its enplanements soar by almost 23 percent in 2004. It posted strong gains during the first half of the year and ended up with 16,038 enplanements, compared to 13,073 the year before.United Express’ sagging numbers continued into this ski season but then turned around. United’s enplanements fell almost 18 percent in December. They were up 3.76 percent in January, which is traditionally the second busiest month for the airline in Aspen.Northwest saw 25 percent more passengers boarding in Aspen in January 2005.Elwood said he anticipates an increase in overall enplanements this year. He noted that there has been some confusion about when the airport must close for a runway rehabilitation project. That’s not going to affect flying this spring, he said. The 60-day closure is scheduled for mid-April 2006.”I’m actually quite bullish for our service over time,” Elwood said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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