Commercial traffic dips at Aspen airport in 2011 |

Commercial traffic dips at Aspen airport in 2011

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Commercial passenger traffic at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport slipped 2.1 percent in 2011 though the addition of a third carrier, which launched service midway through December, bodes well for 2012 numbers.

American Eagle accounted for 1,181 enplanements – people getting on a commercial carrier in Aspen – last year, but its numbers reflect service that only began Dec. 15. The carrier will serve the local airport during the winter and summer months, joining United Express and Frontier Airlines, which offer year-round service.

Enplanements totaled 223,078 passengers in 2011, down slightly from 227,784 in 2010, which was the busiest year for commercial traffic since 1998. The 2010 total was up 3.7 percent over 2009.

United remained Aspen’s dominant carrier last year, accounting for 174,954 enplanements – a 2.4 percent increase over 2010 for the airline even though United flights were affected by a runway extension project that wrapped up in the fall. Enplanements on Frontier were down 5.2 percent, totaling 46,943 in 2011, but the airline reduced the number of flights it operated in and out of Aspen last year, noted Jim Elwood, aviation director at the airport.

With three airlines now serving Aspen and the completion of the runway project, which made it feasible for American to start local service, Elwood said commercial enplanements could grow in 2012.

“I’m really optimistic about what 2012’s numbers will look like over time,” he said.

United enplanements in 2011 were up in every month except April, June, September and October. The runway project had the most impact on the airline in the fall months.

“The runway extension actually hurt our numbers a little bit,” Elwood said.

Overall, March and then January were the two busiest months for commercial traffic at the airport last year, followed by February, July, August and December.

While enplanements dropped slightly, overall aircraft operations, including commercial airlines, charters, private and military aircraft, were flat in 2011 compared to the prior year, according to numbers posted to the airport’s website at

Operations in 2011 totaled 37,605 flights in and out. In 2010, total aircraft operations were down 5.5 percent from 2009.

“Overall, the trend has been downward for a decade or so,” Elwood said.

Aspen, like many airports, has seen general aviation (private aircraft) operations drop in recent years, though the size of the private planes has been getting bigger. No data is kept on the number of people flying in and out on private aircraft.

The number of overall “itinerant” operations in Aspen last year, however, was up 1 percent over 2010. Those include private and commercial flights – any that don’t begin and end at the local airport.

January was the biggest month for flights in and out of Aspen by commercial carriers in 2011, but July was the busiest month for itinerant operations of all sorts, with 4,554 flights in and out. August was the second busiest month for overall itinerant operations last year, followed by March.

Aircraft operations in 2012 began on a busy note. Jan. 2 was the second busiest single day ever recorded at the airport, with 341 operations, Elwood said. The local airport’s busiest days tend to fall at the end of a holiday period, when a large influx of visitors depart, he said.

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