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Aspen airport applauds quietest jets

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – What sort of meaningful prize can you offer an individual who flies, quietly, in and out of Aspen on a private jet?

One Pitkin County commissioner mulled briefly Tuesday how best to honor those who operate the quietest aircraft, even if the gesture is of nominal monetary value.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport has launched a new Fly Quiet program, in which it tracks airplane noise with a monitor in Woody Creek and radar data that helps airport administrators pinpoint a jet that generates too much noise.

Overall, aircraft noise has been on the decline, according to data presented to commissioners, due in large part to the retirement of older, noisier jets and their replacement with a new, quieter generation of planes, according to Paul Dunholter of BridgeNet International, the airport’s noise consultant.

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All of the noise incidents the airport recorded last year were associated with older jets, he said. It’s the private jets that cause complaints; commercial aircraft are not the issue, according to airport officials.

The airport has developed a 1-10 scoring system based on how quiet or noisy a plane is and how many “noise events” it generates. A 10 is a perfect score.

Both single-operator planes and charter/fractional jets that serve multiple clients were scored; they were divided into those that fly in and out more than 30 times over the course of a year, and those that come and go fewer than 30 times.

In 2009, 176 single operators had a score of 9.7 or higher and three – Morgans Mach One Machine, Delaware L 60 Operation and Konfara Co. – had scores of a perfect 10 with more than 30 operations at the airport.

The best charter/fractional operator with more than 30 flights in and out of Aspen was Business Jet Solutions. Among those with less than 30 operations, the top scorers were Jet Charter, SP Aviation and World Class Aviation.

Most improved were Priester Charters and Sunwest Aviation.

The county envisions presenting certificates to the operators who earn recognition, if the airport can figure out who they are exactly, said Jim Elwood, airport director.

Many jets are owned by LLCs, he explained.

“It’s really sometimes tough to crack the identity of the operator,” Elwood said.

Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested gift certificates for perhaps $50 to local high-end restaurants, for example, be awarded to the quietest operators.

“I’m talking minor dollars – nothing to somebody who’s able to fly in on their own, private plane, but there isn’t anybody who doesn’t like a freebie,” she said. No other commissioners voiced support for the suggestion, though.

Richards also suggested the airport contact the operators with the worst scores.

“I’d find a way to let the losers know who won,” she said.

The airport is seeing fewer private planes overall, possibly a fallout from the recession. General aviation (as opposed to commercial operations) was down 10.6 percent in 2009, Elwood said. Many of the same planes are still coming to Aspen, but less frequently than they used to, he said.

Next up on the airport’s noise radar may be jets powering up in preparation for take-off – the equivalent of idling on the ground. When it goes on for too long, it generates complaints from North 40 homeowners near the airport.

A new sensor system being developed by Boeing will apparently be able to track such noise, its duration, and which plane it’s coming from, according to Elwood.

“They might like to use our site as kind of a trial site for integrating their technology,” he told commissioners.

janet@aspentimes.com


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