Summer air service close to last year’s |

Summer air service close to last year’s

Janet Urquhart
United ExPlus jet connections between Denver and Aspen will make use of the CRJ-700, operated by SkyWest. (Courtesy United Airlines)

Jet service between Aspen and Denver will drop to just one flight daily this spring, but it is scheduled to increase to six daily jet connections, along with six turboprop flights, by early June.

By summertime, the resort should have nearly as many aircraft seats available for travelers as it did last year, even though United Airlines’ new Aspen carrier, SkyWest, will be flying smaller planes.

When United Airlines announced last week that SkyWest will being flying the Canadair CRJ-700 into Aspen, replacing Air Wisconsin’s service that used the larger BAe-146, local resort officials immediately expressed concern that Aspen would see a drop in the number of overall seats available to air travelers.

The CRJ-700 seats 66 passengers; the BAe-146 seats 88. Simply matching last year’s flight schedule would mean a reduction in airline capacity. But this week, United said it intends to match last year’s seat count, not simply the flight count, according to Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airline industry.

On Thursday, the airline loaded its spring/summer flight schedule into the computer system used by reservation agencies, tour operators and online travel sites like Expedia. The numbers ” especially for the summer ” let Tomcich breathe a sigh of relief.

“I was a little concerned about it last week, when they said they’d be able to match flight for flight, but not seat for seat,” he said. “I was thrilled with the schedule they loaded [Thursday] morning.”

The first SkyWest CRJ-700 flight is scheduled to arrive at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport on Sunday, April 16 ” the same day the BAe-146 will make its final departure.

United/SkyWest’s plan is to introduce one jet flight per day with the CRJ-700 on April 16 and increase the frequency to six flights per day on June 8. Additional flights will be provided on Mesa Airlines’ 37-passenger Dash-8s, a turboprop aircraft that currently provides part of United’s Aspen/Denver service. By June 8, Aspen will be served by 12 daily flights ” six via jet and six via turboprop. The total seat capacity is 618.

At this point last year, United had scheduled four daily flights on the Dash-8 and six daily flights on the BAe-146 for the summer ” a total of 10 roundtrip flights and 676 seats daily. It ultimately added a fifth Dash-8 flight.

United is now looking at boosting its service beyond what is scheduled for July and August, Tomcich said.

The unknown in summer air service is how frequently weight restrictions will affect the carrying capacity of the aircraft serving Aspen.

Both the CRJ-700 and the BAe-146 are subject to weight restrictions that force the aircraft to fly with empty seats in hot weather so they can successfully take off on Aspen’s relatively short runway.

If anything, the CRJ-700 will be more susceptible to weight restrictions than the BAe-146 when the mercury climbs above 80 degrees, Tomcich said.

As a result, service on the turboprop is scheduled during the midday hours in the summer, with the jets flying in the evening and morning.

United service between Aspen and Denver, known as United Express under the arrangement between United and Air Wisconsin, will be branded United ExPlus for the new CRJ-700 flights operated by SkyWest.

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