United confirms flight increase | AspenTimes.com

United confirms flight increase

United Airlines announced plans yesterday to increase service between Denver and Aspen this winter.

Christine Mangi, spokeswoman for United Express, said the airline plans to resume service levels that were in place in the winter of 2000-01. Travelers will have 12 flights on weekdays between Denver and Aspen from which to choose and four additional flights on the weekends.

“We are in fact bringing back the level of service we had in 2000 and actually adding a little bit more by virtue of new service to San Francisco, which we haven’t offered in previous seasons,” Mangi said.

The airline announced this summer that it plans to add a daily flight between San Francisco and Aspen, complementing its service to the California market. United Express already flies directly between Los Angeles and Aspen with a once-a-day flight during the ski season.

The two flights a day to and from California added with the 12 a day back and forth to Denver means there will be 14 weekday flights on United Express in and out of Sardy Field. The airline plans to add four more a day on the weekends, bringing the total up to 18.

Bill Tomcich, president of the reservation agency Stay Aspen/Snowmass, said the added service should provide a boost to the resort’s effort to attract more visitors.

Last winter, air service in and out of Aspen was severely affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. Both United Express and America West Airlines, which flies between Aspen and Phoenix, cut their schedules in response.

The United Express decision to cut Aspen down to 10 flights a day likely made it more difficult for those who wanted to come here, especially during peak travel periods around Christmas and President’s Day.

Northwest Airlink, Northwest Airlines’ regional carrier, actually added service last winter with a direct flight to Memphis. The airline has flown between Aspen and Minneapolis for several years.

Jim Elwood, executive director of the Pitkin County airport, told the Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday that the company is looking to add a few weeks to the “season” that the Memphis service is available.

Tomcich, who is working with airport and airline officials on a master plan that deals with airport growth and anticipated changes in airline service, is on the record as saying that the resort’s ability to compete is directly affected by air service.

Along with the extra flights this winter, airline passengers will likely find that there are less weather-related delays and cancellations this year. Pitkin County airport officials, with financial and technical support from the Federal Aviation Administration, have added a localizer to the airport’s communication systems.

Localizers send a signal down the center line of runways, allowing pilots of properly equipped planes to track the plane’s position during a landing in relation to that center line. It is an ancient technology in aviation terms, dating back to the 1930s, but has not been available, until very recently, at facilities like Sardy Field where mountains and other geography distort the signal.

Now that a localizer is installed, airline pilots will be able to land here in weather conditions that once forced them to abort their landing attempt and divert to another field, according to Elwood.

“The localizer adds to the airlines’ bottom line,” he said.

“It’s insurance that they will get a few more planes in,” added County Commissioner Shellie Roy.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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