More passengers and vacant seats flying to and from Aspen
Passenger counts are up while the percentage of occupied seats are down for commercial airline flights to and from Aspen this ski season.
“We have so much service right now that we need to be careful not to have too many seats, because we don’t want to dilute the market,” said Bill Tomcich, president of the central reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass.
In his role, Tomcich, an employee of Aspen Skiing Co., acts as a liaison between Aspen’s tourism industry and commercial airlines.
The data mean a mixed blessing for Aspen’s tourism trade.
The upside is that among American, Delta and United — the three carriers that serve Aspen through SkyWest Airlines — 128,116 seats were available in January and 111,794 in February, the most since the 1994-95 ski season.
The months of January and February in 2015, 2016 and 2017 offered anywhere from 85,913 seats to 98,744, according to data from Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.
The downside is that the airlines’ load factors, a key metric for commercial carriers’ profitability that reflect the percentage of seats occupied by passengers, fall short of national averages.
Domestic commercial flights in the U.S. neared 85 percent in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Aspen’s commercial carriers combined for a 58.3 percent load factor in January, down from 70.9 percent in January 2017.
“Fifty-eight percent is very low for Aspen,” Tomcich said. “I expect to see a correction in the number of seats offered next January.”
February’s load factor at Sardy Field was 63.6 percent, down from 70.5 percent yielded in February 2017.
December, which offered a significantly lower number of available seats, 83,040, than January and February, had a 67.6 percent load factor, down from 72.2 in December 2016, when 78,370 seats were available.
Among the three airlines, American, which flies to Aspen from Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Los Angeles and Phoenix, so far has the most impressive performance this winter — December, January and February — due to having 38 percent more passengers than the winter of 2016-17, as well as increasing its capacity by 61 percent, Tomcich noted.
Delta, which flies through Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis–Saint Paul and Salt Lake City, improved its capacity by 38 percent and had 21 percent more passengers during those same three months. United, Aspen’s busiest airline with 20 to 25 daily flights through Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, has an increased capacity of 12 percent, but its passenger count is down 1.7 percent.
Two markets, Seattle and Toronto, are tops on Tomcich’s wish list for future commercial service to Aspen. Seattle offers pent-up demand for Aspen service, while Toronto is one of Aspen Skiing Co.’s top international markets.
For the time being, however, Tomcich said he and Skico will crunch the numbers to see what flight services make the sense.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.