Commercial airlines to resume normal operations at Aspen airport | AspenTimes.com

Commercial airlines to resume normal operations at Aspen airport

A United Express airline prepares for boarding at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Tuesday.

Commercial flight operations at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport are expected to return to normal at 7 a.m. today after being disrupted since July 4 by flight restrictions due to the Lake Christine Fire.

The Federal Aviation Administration has modified the temporary flight restriction to allow regular commercial operations to resume provided no fixed-wing firefighting operations are underway in the affected area. The flight restrictions will remain in place until the threat of the fire spreading subsides, according to a statement from the Aspen airport, which noted 40 commercial flights are scheduled to arrive and depart today.

"It is essential to clear air traffic in the vicinity of the fire for aerial firefighting operations," read a statement from the website nciweb.nwcg.gov, an incident information system for the Lake Christine Fire and other fires. "Flights could once again be canceled or delayed as needed by the firefighting operation."

The Lake Christine Fire was 43 percent contained and spanned 6,285 acres as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, incident commander Mike Almas said. An estimated 20 homes off of Frying Pan Road from Pinon to Cedar Road remain under mandatory evacuation. A community meeting with updates is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Basalt High School.

The flight restrictions left the onus on the airlines on whether to fly into and out of Aspen.

American, Delta and United all serve Aspen through their partner SkyWest.

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General aviation at the airport was affected by an estimated 50 percent in terms of cancellations, reroutes and delays, said Fil Meraz, the airport's director of operations. Some private aircraft had to follow the same rules as commercial flights, but others were able to circumvent the restricted area, he said. Private aircraft also could fly because they were under fewer restrictions and their pilots could rely on visual approaches rather than instrumental.

Commercial flights into and out of the airport were impacted by 75 percent, Meraz said.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American canceled all 20 of its flights since July 4, both inbound and outbound, said company spokesman Ross Feinstein. Affected passengers were either rebooked on another airline, rerouted to another airport or given refunds, he said.

"It looks like we will be back to normal operations," he said, noting that delays are a possibility with the relaxed restrictions.

A spokeswoman for Chicago-based United, which canceled 41 inbound and 47 outbound flights due to the restrictions, also said it will resume normal operations.

Airport operations had been a source of confusion for a number of passengers since the middle of last week, with questions about whether the airport was actually open and why private aircraft apparently were coming and going with no hitches.

Meraz said the airport reached out on social-media platforms and its website. Arrival and departure updates also are available at http://www.aspenairport.com.

All of the airport's car-rental agencies were sold out, he said.

Aspen limousine operator John O'Donoghue said he stayed busy throughout the week, driving to and from Denver International Airport eight times in eight days.

"For me and other people in the limousine service, I think it was one of our busiest times," he said. "People had to get out and they had to get home, so they had no choice but to try and get to Denver."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com