United adds turboprop service to Denver
Locals and longtime visitors to Aspen are getting a blast from the past this off-season in the form of a Dash-8 turboprop airplane that’s flying between Denver and Aspen once a day.The Dash-8 was the signature plane of now-defunct Rocky Mountain Airways. The planes were known for flying close to the tops of the peaks as they bounced their way between Sardy Field and Stapleton International Airport, DIA’s predecessor.The great view, and, at times, stomach-wrenching turbulence – simply part of the trip to Aspen in the 1970s and 1980s – is being offered once a day until Dec. 14, when service expands for the ski season. United Express added Dash-8 service to its off-season schedule in order to fill what last year had been a three-and-a-half hour flightless hole in the middle of the day. United Airlines spokesperson Jeff McAndrews said the flight was added to “more fully serve the residents of Aspen.”Yesterday’s Dash-8 flight looked to be about half full, mostly with rugby players and their wives in town for Ruggerfest. “It was very scary,” said Kansas City resident and Rocky Mountain Airways veteran Kathy Smith after unloading a little before 12:30 p.m. “I call it Aspen Scareways.”But her kids had a different take. Mollie, 14, said “It wasn’t that bad,” and Kyle, 12, declared “It was fun!”The Dash-8 is made by Canadian manufacturer de Havilland, with “turboprop” propeller engines made by Pratt & Whitney. The plane is famous for for its ability to take off and land on an extremely short runway and fly nearly straight up from the ground. It is the plane of choice for sky-diving clubs at massive get-togethers known as “boogies” to shuttle people up for their jumps.The 37-seat Dash-8 200 operating between Denver and Aspen is owned and operated by Mesa Airlines of Phoenix. Larger and smoother-flying BAe146 jets, owned and operated by Air Wisconsin, are used for the other five off-season flights. United spokesman McAndrews said recent changes in the contracts between United and the smaller carriers that operate under the United Express banner made it possible for two separate airlines – Mesa and Air Wisconsin – to provide service to Denver. Mesa also flies the Dash-8 for America West Express Airlines in its daily service between Aspen and Phoenix.”It’s a way to expand service in shoulder season when there isn’t enough demand to justify another jet,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass. “It’s actually better service for locals and visitors flying out of here.”Without the Dash-8 service, there would be no flights from Aspen to Denver between 10:40 a.m. and 1:55 p.m., a gap that makes scheduling difficult for travel agents.”It was a very inconvenient gap in the scheduling last year, which made it hard to provide connections for outbound flights from Denver,” said Peter Johnson, owner of Aspen Travel. Despite the inconveniences and discomforts of the smaller turboprops – they’re slower, have smaller seats and are notoriously bumpy – Johnson said the additional flight will make life easier for his company and its customers. The Dash-8 takes an hour to get from Denver to Aspen, about 15 minutes longer than the BAe146.”I thought to myself, `What’s taking so long?'” said Helen Wrate of Newport Beach, Calif. “Coming in on the landing was a little weird,” she added.”It reminded me of landing on an aircraft carrier,” said Bill Brownley of Virginia. “You drop straight down but keep it powered up in case you have to take off again.”Karen Cordray-Van de Castle, a science teacher from Virginia in town for Ruggerfest, said the trip reminded her of a roller coaster at an amusement park near her home in Virginia.”I kept saying to myself if we crash, we were going down to nothing but forest and wild animals,” she said.For the record, according to a retired travel agent, Rocky Mountain Airways Dash-8 service was reliable and safe: “I always preferred to book on Rocky Mountain because if you went down, you’d have a much better chance because of the short landing it could make.”
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