Production stops of Aspen’s favorite jet |

Production stops of Aspen’s favorite jet

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Finding a jet airliner capable of flying in and out of Aspen isn’t easy. And, it just got a little harder.

Just one make of regional jet serves Sardy Field now. And they’re not making it anymore.

British Aerospace Systems has ceased production of the regional jet that flies in and out of Aspen’s mountainous terrain. The company had barely launched production of its new Avro RJX when it pulled the plug on the new line, blaming Sept. 11 for a downturn in the market for its aircraft.

Subsequently, British European last month canceled its order for 12 RJXs, which would have been among the first – and as it turned out, last – of the jets to roll off the assembly line.

“There’s no other jet that’s feasible to fly in here, and they just made the last one,” said John Norton, chief operating officer for the Aspen Skiing Co.

Aspen doesn’t need to worry just yet, though, said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen-Snowmass and the resort’s liaison with the airline industry.

“It’s one of those worries to put off for 10 years or so,” he said.

The Avro RJX was to be the new and improved version of the Avro RJ, the series that succeeded the BAe 146.

United Express flights between Aspen and Denver, operated by Air Wisconsin for United Airlines, use the BAe 146. Mesaba Airlines, a regional carrier that operates the Northwest link between Aspen and Minneapolis, flies the Avro RJ.

Northwest’s fleet is quite new, and those jets should remain in service for some time, said Tomcich. Air Wisconsin had been looking to replace some of the older BAe 146s it leases with the new Avro RJX, which might have led to new service in and out of Aspen, Tomcich said.

The loss of the RJX, with its greater range, speed and altitude capabilities, was a setback, he said.

“That could have been the perfect plane for Aspen. It could have opened up some alternatives for some new, longer-distance, nonstop flights,” Tomcich said.

The BAe 146 and the upgraded Avro RJ have both seen use by airlines serving Aspen, as both versions of the jet are capable of the steep descents and climbs demanded by the airport.

American Eagle, looking for a jet it could fly between Dallas and Aspen, at one time considered the Brazilian-made Embraer ERJ-135, but concluded it was not up to the task, Tomcich said.

The 146/Avro jets, however, are not the only airplanes that can be used for commercial airline service into the resort.

“There are a bunch of turboprops that can serve Aspen,” he said. “The problem is, there aren’t that many hubs within range of Aspen with a turboprop.

“And the flying public definitely prefers a jet to a turboprop.”

Mesa Airlines uses the Dash 8, a turboprop, to provide America West Express service between Aspen and Phoenix, and several now-defunct airlines that once provided service between Aspen and the Front Range used the Dornier 328 turboprop.

The Dornier 328 jet is now in use by regional carriers in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but has not been put into service in Aspen. Aspen Mountain Air had planned to use the Dornier jet, though, before the airline went bankrupt several years ago, Tomcich said.

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