Reservation plan ready for airport |

Reservation plan ready for airport

Pitkin County is prepared to implement a reservation system for departing private aircraft over Presidents Day weekend to avoid another overcrowding “fiasco,” officials announced Thursday.

The county will work with Federal Aviation Administration officials in the Aspen air traffic control tower to restrict incoming private flights and also restrict takeoffs to prearranged times – if necessary – said David Bravdica, assistant director of aviation.

He said the airport staff and a consultant are already trying to get a count of the number of aircraft coming in for the long holiday weekend of Feb. 13 and 14. Presidents Day weekend is traditionally one of the busiest of the season.

Bravdica said they aren’t anticipating problems as severe as those that occurred Jan. 2 and 3, when New Year’s holiday crowds were trying to return home.

The number of aircraft trying to leave at the same time that Saturday and Sunday, combined with incoming flights, basically created gridlock at the airport. As many as 30 aircraft were stacked on the ground waiting – and waiting and waiting – for clearance to take off.

“It was just far more overwhelming than we had anticipated,” said Bravdica. “We did learn quite a bit from this fiasco on the second and third.”

One of the lessons learned was that “fractional ownership” aircraft are creating major headaches for the travel industry. People are buying time on private, luxury aircraft just as they do in time-share condos.

Instead of using commercial carriers, people invest in a fractional ownership and suddenly turn into jet-setters on trips to places like Aspen.

Fractional interest business with one company called Exec Jets accounted for 97 flights into the Aspen airport over the holiday period, according to Bravdica. Last year the number was 57 flights.

The private flights probably average four people, Bravdica said. Meanwhile, about 2,500 customers on commercial flights experienced delays trying to fly in or out of the Aspen airport on Jan. 3 and 4.

Pitkin County officials told members of the Aspen Skiing Co. Community Advisory Committee Thursday that situation won’t be tolerated again. Committee members were venting frustrations about the air access difficulties that plague the town.

Commissioner Shellie Harper informed the group that her board has already budgeted funds to implement a reservation system over Presidents weekend.

Bravdica said if the same overcrowding issues arise, the airport administration will ask the FAA tower to only allow commercial flights to come in. Commercial flights will also receive preference to take off as close to their scheduled times as possible. Private aircraft would be allowed to take off only at times pilots reserved in advance.

“Very likely we can find a solution soon,” said Bravdica.

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