Growing jet traffic congests mountain airports | AspenTimes.com

Growing jet traffic congests mountain airports

The Associated Press

RIFLE ” Pilots say marginal flying conditions combined with an increase in private jet traffic are causing congestion at the mountain airports that cater to the ski industry.

“The problem is there’s only so much space, and when the weather is not perfect, the mountain airports can only accommodate a certain number of airplanes per hour,” Andrew Doremus said. “The valleys aren’t any bigger, the airports aren’t any bigger, but more people are coming.”

Doremus is director of operations for a charter company, The Flight Department, and owns the Rifle Jet Center.

He said that in poor conditions, as few as six aircraft an hour can come into Aspen and four per hour into Vail. “And you’ll have 100 planes coming on real peak weekends, so you can see the issue developing right there,” Doremus said. Small aircraft such as business jets share the airspace with airliners.

The problem has worsened in the past several years with the growth of the fractional-ownership jet market spurring heavier traffic and bigger planes.

Also contributing to the problem is traffic congestion on Interstate 70 and the hassles of commercial airline travel, which drive those with the financial wherewithal to choose private jets.

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Aspen/Pitkin County Airport director Jim Elwood compares the traffic problem at mountain airports during the ski season to searching for a parking spot in Cherry Creek.

“If you go shopping at Cherry Creek mall and drive around till you find a parking spot, sometimes you don’t find a parking spot for a long time, or it’s not where you planned to park,” Elwood said. “There’s a lot of activity going on as people are trying to get into Aspen. They’re trying to get into Eagle, they’re trying to get into Telluride. … It’s not surprising to find that there’s a limit to the amount of airspace.”

During the busiest air traffic days for mountain airports ” holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s ” the Federal Aviation Administration imposes a slot-reservation system for private jets. They must enter reservation requests for the times they want to fly.

Not all requests are granted. “It’s very frustrating,” Doremus said. “Sometimes you end up in Grand Junction.”