Future of jet service lands at Aspen airport
New jets will begin flying in and out of Aspen in April, United Airlines announced Thursday.The twin-engine CRJ-700s will replace the fleet of BAe-146s that have been the main commercial air service link between Denver and Aspen for years.The BAe-146s are being mothballed, raising fears before Thursday’s announcement that the only option for commercial service between Aspen and Denver would be turboprop aircraft. The new jets will be operated by SkyWest Airlines and will replace the aircraft operated by Air Wisconsin, which has been providing service as United Express. Though Northwest and Mesa airlines fly to Aspen from cities in the Midwest and Southwest, many consider United Express service vital to the resort’s economy because it is how the vast majority of the public flies here.David Perry, senior vice president of the Aspen Skiing Co., said the airport is the “economic life-link for our community.””This is a huge day,” Perry said. “This is more than a replacement aircraft. This is replacing fear with certainty in our market.” The Bombardier/Canadair CRJ-700 is a 66-seater that flies at a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet and speed of up to 544 mph. The center aisle has enough headroom for most people to stand up, and every passenger has either an aisle or window seat. The CRJ-700 is split into three sections, with six first-class seats, 28 economy-plus seats, and 32 economy seats. “We’ve been working very hard as an airport to get ready for this transition,” said Jim Elwood, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.There were some concerns at a news conference Thursday about the number of seats. The BAe-146 can seat 88 passengers, while the new jet seats 66.United’s contract management director, Greg Kaldahl, said there may be more flights next summer. For now, however, there are no major changes in the schedule. “We have a long history in Aspen,” Kaldahl said. “If others choose to fly here, it will not be the first time we’ve had competition. We think we can hold our own in the Aspen community.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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