Aspen airline service takes off | AspenTimes.com

Aspen airline service takes off

Janet Urquhart

A six-second exposure shows a United flight as it streaks toward its landing at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Wednesday night. Saturday, the airport will be busier with commercial airline traffic than it has been in years. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Saturday will be the busiest day of commercial airline traffic at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport since 1998, when two now-defunct airlines were serving the local market along with United Express.

Both United and Delta boost their winter flight schedules starting today, but the resort’s expanding air service really hits home on Saturday, when 26 inbound commercial flights are scheduled to arrive ” 16 from Denver, four from Salt Lake City, three from Los Angeles, two from Chicago and one from San Francisco.

“It’s the busiest day the Aspen airport has seen since Aspen Mountain Air flew here,” said Bill Tomcich, president of the reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airline industry. In 1998, with United, Aspen Mountain Air and Mountain Air Express all serving the resort, more than 30 flights came in on busy winter Saturdays.

This winter, both United and Delta have been expanding their schedules in response to demand, according to Tomcich.

Last summer, it appeared the local airport would see slightly fewer airline seats coming for the ski season, given use of the Canadair CRJ-700 jet, operated by SkyWest Airlines for both United and Delta. The regional jet accommodates fewer passengers than the Bae-146, which United was using for its Aspen service last winter.

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But United had only four of the aging jets at its disposal for the Denver-Aspen connection a year ago. It has far more of the CRJ-700s available and has bumped up service as a result, according to Tomcich.

“Every single week, they keep adding more flights,” he said.

Now, Tomcich said, it appears the number of seats coming into Aspen will be up 11 to 14 percent over last winter, even though Northwest Airlines dropped its service to Aspen from Minneapolis and Memphis.

The addition of Delta service this winter, plus United’s new nonstop flights from Chicago and San Francisco and its boosted service between Aspen and Denver, has resulted in the increased service.

United recently gave local airline service another boost by adding a second daily connection between Aspen and San Francisco on Saturdays, starting Jan. 13. The airline announced last August that it would offer a single daily flight between Aspen and San Francisco on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this winter.

Also serving Aspen is US Airways Express, with a connection to Phoenix.

Service into Aspen varies considerably by day of the week, noted Tomcich. It also varies throughout the winter, with different schedules for Dec. 1-13, Dec. 14-Jan. 8, Jan. 9-Feb. 13 and Feb. 14-April 9.

For the first half of December, the airport saw 3,855 seats per week, versus 3,666 last year ” an increase of 5.2 percent, Tomcich reported.

Though schedules may continue to change, he said airline service breaks down this way for the remainder of the winter:

Dec. 14-Jan. 8: 9,279 seats per week this winter versus 8,381 last season, an increase of 10.7 percent.

Jan. 9-Feb. 13: 9,403 seats per week this winter versus 8,253 last season, an increase of 13.9 percent.

Feb. 14-April 9: 9,370 seats per week this winter versus 9,407 last season, a decrease of less than half of 1 percent.

When the Aspen airport shuts down April 9, 2007 for a 60-day runway reconstruction project, United will boost the seats it offers on flights to the Eagle County Airport. The airline has upgraded two of its six daily 37-passenger Dash 8s (a turboprop) between Eagle and Denver to 138-passenger Airbus A-320s, according to Tomcich. Colorado Mountain Express will schedule service to accommodate passengers arriving in Eagle during the final week of the Aspen/Snowmass ski season, April 9-15.

Daily arrival/departure information at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is available at http://www.aspenairport.com and by calling (970) 544-3188. Flight schedules at the Eagle County Airport are available at http://www.eaglecounty.us/airport/.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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