Flight cancellations, delays up at Aspen airport | AspenTimes.com

Flight cancellations, delays up at Aspen airport

A commercial airliner departs from Aspen-Pitkin County Airport last winter. the number of seats offered by the three air carriers will increase this winter over last year.

Aspen's commercial-flight service for the upcoming ski season will gradually pick up in the coming weeks, with three major airlines serving the local market. But getting and leaving here, as many travelers can attest, isn't always smooth sailing.

For the first nine months of 2014, the number of canceled outbound flights from Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is the highest in at least nine years, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The bureau reported that 485 departing flights were canceled for the first nine months of the year. That accounted for 12.45 percent of all departures from Sardy Field. The next highest percentage came in 2007, when 389 outbound flights, or 9.35 percent, were canceled.

Eagle County Regional Airport, which can accommodate sturdier, larger aircraft and is the local airport for Vail, saw 37 outbound flights, or 3.62 percent, canceled for the first nine months of 2014, statistics show.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, who is serving as the airport's interim director until the new director arrives in December, attributed the higher figure to inclement weather earlier this year that hamstrung flights across the U.S.

"What you had was a lot of weather delays across the country," he said. "We had a big winter, and obviously weather in other parts of the country had a pretty big influence."

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Indeed, the first three months of 2014 accounted for 414 of the 485 cancellations, data shows. And during January, February and March, extreme weather was listed by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics as the reason for 10.7 percent of Sardy Field's delays in January, 12.3 percent in February, and 5.05 percent in March.

January brought in 40.5 inches of new snow, February 26 inches, and March 37.1 inches, according to the Aspen Water Department.

Snow, however, wasn't the only deterrent, said Brian Grefe, the airport's assistant aviation director.

"The winds were unusually higher than what we came to anticipate," he said. "We had the crash in January that slowed things down a bit and a number of different factors adding up to the performance being a little less than what we expected."

On Jan. 5, during one of the busiest times of the year for the airport — a Sunday after the holidays — a 22-seat Bombardier Challenger crashed during a landing attempt. All three men aboard the aircraft were pilots. One died, and the airport was shut down for a day and half. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board said wind gusts were as high as 25 knots at the time of the crash, but the report did not provide a cause. A final report won't be issued until next year, the NTSB said last week.

While Grefe and Peacock said flight cancellations have been up across the U.S., statistics also reflect that. For the first nine months of this year, 2.52 percent of all U.S. commercial flights were canceled. That's the highest percentage in at least 10 years, data shows.

As for inbound flights, 294, or 7.55 percent, were canceled the first nine months of the year. Only 2007 showed a higher rate of canceled inbound flights, at 347 flights, or 8.4 percent, to the Aspen airport over the past nine years. Eagle County's airport, located in Gypsum, saw 25 arriving flights, or 2.45 percent, canceled.

Delayed arrivals also are up at the Aspen airport, with 1,210, or 31.08 percent of all flights, for the first nine months of the year. That's the highest percentage since at least 2006, according to the bureau.

Delayed departures have totaled 939, or 24.11 percent of all outbound flights, also the highest clip since at least 2006.

Meanwhile, for the upcoming Aspen ski season, a total of 3,167 commercial flights are scheduled in an out of Sardy Field from Dec. 1 through April 30. The number could fluctuate, however, based on how carriers American, Delta and United adjust their schedules. Direct flights will be offered between Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and San Francisco.