Aspen airline passenger traffic dips in July | AspenTimes.com

Aspen airline passenger traffic dips in July

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – After jumping 3 percent in June, passenger enplanements at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport dropped 3 percent in July.

Each passenger boarding a commercial flight in Aspen constitutes an enplanement, and overall this year, enplanements are up 5 percent compared with the first seven months of 2011 even though the resort lost service by Frontier Airlines at the close of last winter.

United Express serves Aspen year-round, and American Eagle provides summer and winter service. American began summer service in mid-June; it ended Aug. 20. Daily connections to both Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles on American are scheduled to resume for the winter on Dec. 15, leaving United as the sole carrier flying into and out of Aspen until then.

Enplanements on United totaled 20,448 in July – up a healthy 15.6 percent for the month compared with July 2011. United enplanements were up about 21 percent in June.

American saw 2,486 enplanements in July, likely its high for the year because the airline won’t resume service until mid-December. The airline recorded 1,609 enplanements during its half-month of June service.

Last year, Frontier saw 5,960 enplanements in July and 6,580 in August, making August its single biggest month in 2011.

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The 3 percent uptick in June 2012 enplanements, and July’s decline by the same percentage, doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airline industry.

United bumped up its summer service levels a full week earlier in June compared with the same month a year ago, making more seats available. Travelers filled enough of those extra seats to increase overall enplanements despite the absence of Frontier service and only a half-month of operations by American, Tomcich explained.

In July, total seat capacity compared with 2011 was down 8 percent, reflecting the loss of Frontier, which flew four daily connections compared with American’s two. That enplanements were down just 3 percent for the month means commercial flights were fuller.

“We had 3 percent fewer passengers with 8 percent fewer seats, so the load factors were actually up, which is a good thing,” Tomcich said.

Overall for the year so far, the local airport has seen 157,894 passenger enplanements, with March being the busiest month at 35,154. Numbers in January, February and March all bested enplanements posted during the same months last year and are significantly higher than any monthly totals posted since then this year.

Far more visitors drive into Aspen in the summer than winter, though, and July lodging occupancies suggest plenty of people were in town despite the dip in airline passenger numbers.

Overall occupancy in Aspen for the month of July was 78 percent, according to data collected by the Mountain Travel Research Program. That’s nearly a 10 percent increase over July 2011 and the highest paid occupancy recorded during the summer months in Aspen since the research program began tracking the data in 2006, according to Tomcich.

janet@aspentimes.com