America West to suspend service |

America West to suspend service

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

America West Express will suspend service between Aspen and Phoenix for a month during the spring offseason.

The airline has offered year-round service to Aspen, but with its planes in demand elsewhere and its Aspen flights more than half-empty last April, America West couldn’t justify continuous operation this spring, according to Bill Tomcich, president of the reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airlines.

America West Express’ last flight during the ski season will be on April 3; it will resume service into Aspen on May 7.

Northwest Express, which only offers winter service between Aspen and Minneapolis, will wrap up its operations for the ski season on April 4.

Meanwhile, United Express will increase its service into Aspen for the offseason, running seven flights a day instead of the five it offered last spring. However, four of the daily links to Denver will be via the Dash 8 turboprop rather than a jet.

“The seat count will be approximately the same, the frequency will be better, but more than half of the flights are going to be turboprops,” Tomcich said.

When United Express bumps up service to nine flights a day on June 3, three of them will be turboprops and six will be jets. This winter, United has run 11 jets and one turboprop flight a day.

United Express introduced the smaller turboprop to its fleet serving Aspen last September with one flight a day. It jumped to two daily turboprop flights in November and then returned to one for the rest of the winter.

It’s an issue for travelers who prefer to fly in a jet aircraft.

This spring, it is local travelers who will be most affected by the greater number of turboprops in the United Express fleet, according to Tomcich.

“We don’t have a lot of inbound destination visitors between April 4 and June 3,” he said. “Those locals who don’t like to fly in the turboprop will have fewer choices … those who don’t care will have more flights to choose from.

“My bigger concern is that we would lose more jet aircraft to turbos in our prime seasons of winter and summer,” he said. “That could affect tourism.”

Both the America West Express and United Express turboprop flights are actually operated by Mesa Airlines. Mesa became a regional carrier for United last summer and reassigned a portion of its fleet for United flights, reducing the number of planes it has to provide America West service, for example. There aren’t enough to go around.

“It’s an aircraft issue,” Tomcich said.

Telluride almost lost its America West service with the Dash 8 turboprop this summer as the airline considered flying into Carlsbad, Calif. instead.

While more of the turboprops will be pressed into service for United flights to Aspen this summer, the good news is that the smaller planes can fly with a fuller load during hot weather, when passengers may be bumped off a jet flight that has to meet weight restrictions.

Two of the three United turboprops that will be in use in Aspen this summer will depart in midafternoon, when the day tends to be hottest, Tomcich noted. It’s at those times when a United Express jet may have to take off with half of its seats empty. The jets seat 88 passengers, versus 37 on the Dash 8.

In hot weather, air is less dense and an aircraft needs greater speed to get enough lift for takeoff. Without sufficient runway space in Aspen to gain that speed, the plane needs to reduce its weight instead, which can mean bumping passengers.

Pitkin County is currently working on an airport master plan that includes extending the Sardy Field runway by 1,000 feet.

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