Prominent local wants air link explored | AspenTimes.com

Prominent local wants air link explored

Charles Agar

An affordable, community-owned commuter air link between Aspen and Denver is “doable,” at least according to one former county commissioner.Dwight Shellman asked Pitkin County to support a fact-finding mission into the feasibility of creating a new, community-based airline. Shellman requested $7,500 in county funding to retain Spiegel and McDermott, a law firm that has experience with airlines and small airports. “Let’s get people who know what they’re talking about around a table,” he said at last week’s county commissioners meeting. “There is a niche here and it is significant.”Aspen has a history of competitive, affordable air service to Denver. In the 1970s and 1980s, Aspen Airways and Rocky Mountain Airways duked it out for passengers traveling between Aspen and Denver. Those airlines were eventually bought by Continental and United. But the competitive, two-airline service continued into the mid-1990s. Eventually Continental stopped flying between Denver and Aspen. United became the only major carrier and has dominated the market for most of the last decade.Shellman was a county commissioner from 1972 to 1976. During that time, the local bus system was created. He says the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has grown exponentially from its humble origins of 10 buses bought for $800 from the city of Indianapolis. He envisions a similarly small, community-based airline to grow with local need. Shellman is best known for his work in establishing strict land-use regulations in Pitkin County.Shellman proposes a minimum of eight roundtrips per day between Denver and Aspen in high season and four to six in low season at a cost of $100 to $150 per trip. He said the service would likely use a turbo-prop airplane similar to the deHavilland turboprops that are part of the mix of aircraft used by commercial airlines.Shellman said he does not want to waste the time of those he has involved in the inquiry. He wants approval to go ahead with fact-finding and get a proposal ready for public debate as soon as possible.The proposal raised some questions among the commissioners. Can the major airlines – United, Delta, and Northwest – compete for the contracts to run the small air link? And can members of the fact finding committee bid for the contract?The commissioners held off on committing to the idea until they have a chance to consult Hillary Smith, county manager, and John Ely, county attorney.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.