Aspen airport has record number of flight arrivals scheduled Saturday | AspenTimes.com

Aspen airport has record number of flight arrivals scheduled Saturday

The three air carriers serving Aspen scheduled a record number of arriving flights for today to handle the holiday rush, assuming the weather doesn't foul their plans.

American, Delta and United are combining to provide 40 arriving flights with nonstop service from 10 cities, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings firm. Tomcich also is the local business community's liaison with the airlines. The old record appears to be 37 flights from four cities in 1994, he said.

The Aspen airport is expecting roughly a 22 percent increase in the number of seats on arriving flights this winter. During the busiest stretch for air travel during the holidays — today through Friday — there are 266 flights scheduled to arrive, far surpassing the past two seasons, Tomcich said. There were 223 arrivals over the same period last year and 187 in 2015.

As luck would have it, snow is forecast on what is anticipated to be the busiest day for air travel. Aspen is under a winter advisory all day Saturday. Thursday's snowstorm wreaked havoc on Aspen's air travel. There were 12 canceled flights, eight diversions to Grand Junction, four diversions to Denver and 12 landings in Aspen, though some were delayed, according to John Kinney, director of aviation at the airport.

"The good news is we got snow. The bad news is we got snow," he quipped.

The Aspen airport crew is prepared for the busy period, but weather is beyond control, Kinney said. Snow itself isn't necessarily a problem.

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"It's strictly related to visibility," he said.

Tomcich said that even though there will be a record number of flights today and during the holiday period, the airlines' schedules created some "breathing room." Most of the additional flights were scheduled later in the day than the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. peak for operations, he said. In addition, there is an increased supply of seats over multiple days. Tomcich said travel patterns are different this year with Christmas and New Year's Day falling on Mondays.

Saturdays are always high traffic days. Dec. 26 and Jan 2 also are popular days for travelers at Aspen-Snowmass regardless of the day of the week, Tomcich said. This year they fall on Tuesday, so that will help spread the travel load.

In 2015, Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 fell on Saturdays, leading to what Tomcich labeled a "double compression." An unusual amount of demand was placed on those days and it resulted in delayed flights.

"This year with Christmas falling on a Monday, I expect that the inbound demand is going to be more broadly spread out than we have seen in several years, with an initial peak this (today)," Tomcich wrote in an email. But other big days follow on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, when between 36 and 38 arrivals are scheduled each day.

"This additional capacity into (Aspen airport) by all three carriers has actually created some breathing room this year in the event of flight delays, missed connections or cancellations that I expect will be noticeable and welcome," he wrote.

Kinney said flying in and out of Aspen during the holidays last year was "not a pleasant experience" because of delays and cancellations. The schedules of the commercial airlines were so compressed that it created a ripple effect when a flight experienced some type of delay.

Aspen's issues are exacerbated because of the high number of private flights also trying to land or take off. The airport can handle 32 operations per hour during optimal conditions — blue skies and light or no wind.

"When you have weather, you're not going to hit that 32" operations per hour, Kinney said.

Kinney concurrwd with Tomcich that "flattening out the schedule" over several days should be a benefit this year. He said he had numerous conversations with the airlines about scheduling for this winter.

scondon@aspentimes.com