Passenger numbers up at Aspen airport in 2010 |

Passenger numbers up at Aspen airport in 2010

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – In 2010, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport saw its busiest year for commercial passenger traffic since 1998, according to David Ulane, assistant aviation director.

Enplanements – the number of people who boarded a commercial flight in Aspen – totaled 227,784 last year, up 3.7 percent over 2009. The 2010 tally was the highest in a dozen years. In 1998, the airport recorded 248,510 enplanements.

March was the busiest month of the year in 2010, with 34,115 enplanements, followed by January, February, August and July. December closed out the year with 19,854 enplanements, up 5.4 percent from the same month in 2009 and up about 10 percent from 2008.

Last year’s strong showing came despite large declines in passenger enplanements in October and November – 18.4 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively – likely attributable in part to ongoing operational problems with the navigational system that serves the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration shut down and replaced an antenna system, known as a localizer, atop Aspen Mountain and then experienced difficulties getting the new system to operate as planned. Numerous commercial flights were canceled or rerouted while the system was down and cloud cover prevented pilots from visual approaches.

Late October and early November are not, however, busy times for commercial business at the airport, so large numbers of passengers were not affected, Ulane noted. In 2009, when there was no localizer trouble, October and November, along with May, were the three slowest months of the year for enplanements.

United Express continued to be the Aspen airport’s dominant commercial carrier in 2010, accounting for 170,794 enplanements – up about 7 percent from 2009. Frontier enplanements totaled 49,501 passengers, down 3.6 percent.

Frontier announced last July that it would pull out of the Aspen market on Oct. 1, 2010, then did an about-face a few weeks later and said it would serve the resort through this winter. The airline’s short-lived intention to cease service, though, may have been a factor in its drop in enplanements, Ulane said.

“We think that maybe led people to not look at Frontier as an option,” he said.

Frontier is now serving Aspen through the ski season and exploring options for continued service after April with a different aircraft.

Last year’s enplanement numbers also include three months of service to Aspen by Delta Airlines, from January through March, accounting for 7,489 enplanements. That total was down nearly 5 percent from the same three months in 2009.

Delta did not return to the local market this winter, but increased service provided by United means the resort is seeing virtually the same number of airline seats coming into Aspen this ski season as it did last winter.

“It looks like so far, we’re off to a pretty good start,” Ulane said. “We’ll be anxious to see what happens for the rest of the winter.”

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