‘Incredible’ number of private flights land in Aspen

While the number of commercial airline passengers flying into Aspen continues to incrementally increase, the number of private flights has gone through the roof, Pitkin County’s manager said Thursday.

Even without events like Food & Wine or Ideas Festival this year, the number of private flights in June compared with June 2019 increased by more than 5%, Jon Peacock told Pitkin County commissioners Thursday.

“I think you’re seeing that when you drive past the airport,” Peacock said in reference to the number of private jets parked at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport next to Highway 82 west of town.

In June 2019, 2,806 non-commercial flights landed at the airport, compared with 2,970 flights in June this year, he said. That amounts to a 5.8% increase.

“To have more private flights land this June than last June is incredible,” said Bill Tomcich, a local air transportation consultant. “I knew it was busy but I didn’t know it was busier than last year (when popular events including Food & Wine were held). That really surprised me.”

Overall, the number of private flights into Aspen between January and June is down about 12.4%, Peacock said. During that period in 2019, 13,669 private flights landed at Aspen’s airport, compared with 11,974 during the first six months of this year, he said.

Meanwhile, commercial airline passenger traffic continues to rise, though July’s numbers are still just one-third of the numbers posted in July 2019, according to Pitkin County statistics. Around 10,000 passengers came and went from Aspen in July, which nearly triples the number of commercial airline passengers from June.

The July numbers, however, are still 68% less than the more than 30,000 passengers who flew into and out of Aspen in July 2019, according to the statistics.

Part of the issue is fewer flights, Tomcich said. But demand appears to be increasing, with load factors on United and American airlines in the 60% to 80% range, he said.

American Airlines, for example, posted load factors of more than 80% inbound passengers for July. United Airlines’ inbound load factors were about 64%, and the airline increased the daily number of flights from two to six, Tomcich said.

The load factors — or the percentage of seats occupied on a flight — are a double-edged sword, he said. For passengers worried about COVID-19 and social distancing, they are concerning. For Aspen’s economy, however, “it’s definitely good news,” Tomcich said.

“Demand is definitely going back (to where it was),” he said.

Add to that the increased number of private flights, and it certainly spells good news for local businesses, Tomcich said.

“Again, it shows how much demand there is for this destination,” he said.