Aspen travel official unconcerned with United’s financial problems | AspenTimes.com

Aspen travel official unconcerned with United’s financial problems

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s primary air carrier may have some financial troubles in the future, but a local travel official says United Airlines’ problems are nothing new.

United, which flies about 70 percent of visitors into the Aspen airport every day, is plagued by financial troubles, as are many major airlines since Sept. 11. After US Airways’ recent filing for bankruptcy, analysts predict that United may soon follow suit. On Wednesday the airline announced it may declare bankruptcy this fall if it cannot cut costs.

The airline is said to be losing approximately $1 million in revenue every day. On Tuesday, shares of UAL Corp., United’s parent company, declined 28 percent.

But Stay Aspen/Snowmass President Bill Tomcich said he thinks the airline should be able to sustain itself well into 2003, being in a “much better cash position than US Airways was.” And he noted that filing for Chapter 11 protection doesn’t always mean the shutdown of a carrier.

Tomcich pointed out that during the time period when Continental Airlines served as Aspen’s No. 2 air carrier, the company filed for bankruptcy twice without disrupting local service.

“If a major carrier like United files, it won’t be the first time it happens here,” he said. “We dealt with Continental in the past, and it doesn’t mean the immediate shutdown of that major carrier.”

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Aspen Mountain Air, a much smaller service that flew between 1996 and 1998, also filed for bankruptcy long before discontinuing service, Tomcich said.

He said the problem facing United is one facing all the major carriers: a high cost structure of pilot labor. Smaller carriers like Southwest, Jet Blue and Frontier Airlines have lower cost structures and can weather the economic downturn more smoothly, he said.

“Anything that affects 70 percent of our seats into Aspen is a big deal – I’m not making light of this,” Tomcich said. “But keep in mind it’s happened in the past, and it’s generally resulted in no disruptions.”

Tomcich said it does give a sense of urgency to his campaign to lengthen the runway at the Aspen airport to draw in more airlines and more service.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]