Aspen airport not planning to close, but expect to see less traffic |

Aspen airport not planning to close, but expect to see less traffic

People wait outside of the departures entrance at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen airport director John Kinney had a message Tuesday he badly wanted to relay to the greater community.

“We’ve had no plans to close (the airport),” he said. “We’re not planning on closing.

“The biggest surprise to us is the number of calls and emails (from the public) about rumors the airport is going to close.”

In fact, even if the federal government takes measures of completely shutting down commercial scheduled service because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aspen’s airport will remain open to accommodate medical flights and other critical air operations, Kinney said.

The only reasons the facility might close include not having enough Transportation Security Administration employees to screen passengers and baggage and not having enough critical airport employees, he said.

However, the TSA’s Colorado representative has assured Kinney the agency will send backup personnel in the event of a shortage, Kinney said. In addition, he has split his staff in half and separated them to guard against shortages of critical employees.

Besides rumors of closing, another large surprise airport officials received recently was Gov. Jared Polis’ order Saturday closing the state’s ski areas, Kinney said. With visitors leaving en masse, that pushed outbound airplane loads to between 90% and 100% of capacity mainly Sunday and Monday, he said.

After about 4 p.m. Monday, the loads dropped off to about 60%, though flights to Atlanta and Chicago remained full or near full Tuesday. After Tuesday, however, Kinney said he expects airplane loads out of Aspen to drop to below 50%.

Very few people are arriving in Aspen, though he said he saw a family of tourists arrive Monday. Others coming in to the airport include local residents who needed to travel for medical reasons, Kinney said.

He said he’s heard rumblings of possible consolidation of flights, though nothing specific has yet occurred. Those decisions likely will depend on load factors later this week.

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