Local airport geared up for Y2K | AspenTimes.com

Local airport geared up for Y2K

Jeremy Heiman

The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is expecting a busy weekend, and airport personnel have spent an unusual amount of time getting ready for it.

The reason, of course, is the fear that some computer-dependent systems might fail when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

“We’ve been kind of gearing up for this for about 18 months,” said airport Director Peter Van Pelt. The airport administration and staff, along with Federal Aviation Agency personnel, the airlines that serve Aspen and other businesses which work out of the airport have all worked for months to ensure that everything continues to work at the airport, Van Pelt said.

“It’s been a pretty orchestrated effort,” he said.

The FAA has been working on the Y2K problem for even longer. Kirsti Dunn, a regional public relations expert in Seattle, said the FAA’s air-traffic control effort is composed of 628 distinct systems, of which 424 were determined to be “mission critical,” or essential for safe air-traffic management.

Of those, 152 required renovation to make them Y2K-compliant, Dunn said. The major Colorado air-traffic control centers, – Denver, Grand Junction, Longmont and Colorado Springs – passed extensive testing in April, Dunn said, and all FAA systems reached Y2K compliance by June 30, 1999.

Traditionally, New Year’s is one of the heaviest airport traffic periods of the year, Van Pelt said. Though New Year’s Day is always light, New Year’s Eve is generally busy, and flights on Jan. 2 are heavily booked. The weather forecast calls for snow, which could complicate any problems that are experienced, Van Pelt said.

But every airport system that might be affected, from heating and ventilation to lighting to automatic gates, Van Pelt said, has been examined and tested.

“Any system that might be subject to the Y2K bug – computer oriented or power oriented – we’ve gone over it with a fine-tooth comb,” Van Pelt said.

Airport brass met yesterday with Assistant County Manager Hilary Smith, who is coordinating the county’s effort to see that everything runs smoothly when the calendar turns over. The meeting, Van Pelt said, was mainly to update Smith on the airport’s preparations for the millennium.

“We’ve spent a lot of time `what iffing,’ ” Van Pelt said. “With that much forethought, I just feel comfortable that we’ll be able to keep things safe and roll with the punches.” Airport staffers will be on standby or call-up status, so more bodies will be available if the power goes off, he said.

In that event, the runway lights and all the tower’s needs will be powered by a generator. Security at entrances generally served by automated card readers will revert to lock and key. Emergency communications will be battery-powered.

Cliff Runge, president of Aspen Base Operation, which provides services for private planes, said the airport has two days’ worth of fuel in trucks, which can be used even with no electrical power. After that, power would be needed to pump fuel from stationary tanks.

Communication is not a problem at ABO, Runge said, because his staff has battery-powered radios which wouldn’t be affected by computer problems or power failures.

“I don’t see anything too disastrous in this part of the world,” Runge said.


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