Aspen airport metering fuel on occasion thanks to shortage, disasters
Airport director: We will slow spigot when needed, but not affected like others
Wildfires, mudslides and a nationwide jet fuel shortage have combined in recent weeks to create an unpredictable climate for the availability of jet fuel at Aspen’s airport, an official said.
The Aspen-Pitkin County airport has twice had to meter fuel to both commercial and general aviation aircraft in recent weeks, said Dan Bartholomew, airport director.
“It will be on-going,” he said late last week of the threat of possible fuel shortages in the future. “We’ll keep our attention on it and we will be slowing the spigot when we need to. But we’re fortunate we’re not affected like other airports.”
The airport metered fuel the weekend of July 23-25 after a warning from the state of Colorado to be aware of the implications of an ongoing nationwide jet fuel shortage, as well as issues with supply from the airport’s usual sources, Bartholomew said. The first time metering went into effect was only for one day earlier in July after mudslides in Glenwood Canyon closed Interstate 70.
The current extended closure of Glenwood Canyon has not yet affected fuel deliveries to the Aspen airport, he said. Bartholomew said Tuesday he met with fuel providers earlier in the day and was assured he would receive all the fuel needed for commercial and general aviation airplanes.
When metering goes into effect, both commercial and general aviation aircraft only receive a certain number of gallons of fuel, Bartholomew said.
“We let the pilots know the situation so they can make a plan to have the proper fuel,” he said.
Aspen generally receives fuel from Salt Lake City, Denver, Wyoming and sometimes Texas, Bartholomew said. In mid-July, however, all the fuel refined in Salt Lake City was diverted and reserved for aircraft fighting wildfires in the West. Not long after that, the Wyoming refinery shut down for maintenance, while the Denver route was blocked by the mud in Glenwood Canyon, he said.
That helped the airport decide to meter fuel during the weekend last month.
“We metered for three days because we didn’t know when we’d get more,” Bartholomew said.
The airport did not run out of fuel during that time period, he said.
The jet fuel now in use at the airport is coming from the Wyoming refinery, which has reopened, he said. Fuel from Salt Lake City is still being reserved for firefighting aircraft and the Denver route remains blocked by the mud and debris in Glenwood Canyon.
One of the main issues behind the nationwide jet fuel shortage is a pullback by refineries during the pandemic when demand plummeted, then a travel explosion they weren’t prepared for, Bartholomew said. A shortage of fuel truck drivers to deliver refined fuel has compounded the problem, he said.
A representative of Atlantic Aviation, which supplies fuel to commercial and private aircraft in Aspen, cited the nationwide jet fuel shortage as a reason for the recent issues.
“The fuel shortage was not a local or Atlantic Aviation issue,” Jonathan Jones, the head of Atlantic’s operations in Aspen, wrote in an email to The Aspen Times. “Rather it was a supply/transportation issue that affected many airports in the United States. Despite the challenges, we were able to communicate with incoming customers and things went smoothly.”
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