Aspen’s aircraft landing fees higher than other mountain resorts
December 28, 2014
The hundreds of commercial and private aircraft flights arriving at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport during the holidays will pay some of the highest landing fees at mountain resorts — and supply millions of dollars to the airport's coffers.
The Pitkin County commissioners, who oversee the airport, recently approved a 4 percent increase for landing fees for both commercial and private aircraft. Commercial airlines currently pay a fee of $4.95 per 1,000 pounds. That will increase to $5.15 per 1,000 pounds in 2015.
The fee for private aircraft will rise from $5.90 to $6.14 per 1,000 pounds. Locally based private aircraft aren't charged a landing fee.
All three commercial carriers serving Aspen fly the CRJ-700, which weighs about 67,000 pounds, according to a memo to the commissioners from Pitkin County Treasurer Tom Oken and Brian Grefe, a member of the airport staff. The rate hike will increase the landing fee per plane to about $345 from $332, the memo said.
While the per-plane increase isn't huge, it can add up for United Airlines, which operates 166 flights into Aspen per week during the busiest times of ski season.
At $345 per plane, United will pay about $57,270 in landing fees during a busy week later this winter. That is an increase of $2,158 over 2014.
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During the heart of the ski season — from Dec. 18 through April 6 — United is scheduled to land about 2,278 flights in Aspen. At the new rate for 2015, landing fees will top $785,000.
The memo from Oken and Grefe compared Aspen with other mountain resort airports in Colorado. None exceed Aspen's landing fee in 2014 or 2015.
The Gunnison Airport, which provides service for travelers to Crested Butte, is the only other mountain resort airport in Colorado charging more than $5 in landing fees, according to the analysis.
Gunnison's landing fee is $5.04 per 1,000 pounds. Hayden, which provides service for travelers to Steamboat, is at $4.28 and Telluride is at $4. Montrose and Durango will charge $3.73 in 2015. Aspen's closest competitor, Eagle County Airport, will charge a landing fee of $3.22, according to Pitkin County's research. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, charges $2.85 per 1,000 pounds.
United spokeswoman Mary Clark said Wednesday the airline typically doesn't comment on the fees it pays. United released a statement that said, "We are always concerned about increased costs at airports and we continue to work with our airport partners to have them maintain a competitive cost environment."
Oken said the airport staff informed United, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines about the proposed landing-fee increase. None of them submitted comments at a public hearing held by the county commissioners.
In addition, Oken said that on a cost-per-passenger basis, the landing fee at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is lower than many other mountain resort airports. In 2012, it came to about $13.20 in Aspen.
Pitkin County also increased the rent charged for air carriers leasing space at the terminal. The cost increased 2 percent from $67.57 to $68.92 per square foot.
The county left the fuel flowage fee of 12 cents per gallon the same in 2015 for all users.
"These rates were calculated to recover the airport's operating costs attributable to the airlines and general aviation and to maintain the airport's financial capacity and flexibility for future capital improvement projects," said the memo prepared by Oken and Grefe.
Federal Aviation Administration rules allow airports to set landing fees at a level that recovers their costs for operating the facilities that aircraft use. But Oken's memo said the landing fees don't cover all those operational costs.
"A 16 percent increase in landing fees would be required to fully cover operating costs, and airport staff felt that was too large of an increase," the memo said.
The three commercial carriers serving Aspen combined to pay $1,433,737 in landing fees in 2013, Oken said. They paid another $1,246,410 in terminal rent.
The landing fees on private aircraft generated another $1,341,629 in revenue for the airport in 2013, Oken said. There are considerably more private aircraft operations at the airport, though not all are charged a landing fee. In addition, even though the landing fee is greater, the weight of private jets is less than commercial carriers. The Cessna Citation Excel, a popular medium-sized jet, weighs about 22,000 pounds. The landing fee would be about $135 at a rate of $6.14 per 1,000 pounds.
Officials with Atlantic Aviation, the sole fix-base operator for private aircraft in Aspen, didn't return telephone calls regarding its clients' thoughts on the landing fees at Aspen.