Winds, device concerns spark Aspen flight cancellations

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
A monitor shows Aspen airport arrivals as cancelled Thursday evening.
The Aspen Times |

A series of afternoon flights into and out of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport were canceled Thursday due to a combination of bad weather and a problematic technical device.

The result was stranded travelers in Denver and Aspen, who were left with the option of taking the eight-hour-plus detour to Aspen or Denver because the Interstate 70 leg of Glenwood Canyon is closed due to Monday night’s rockslide. The Colorado Department of Transportation said it is aiming to partially reopen the canyon Saturday.

Pitkin County spokeswoman Pat Bingham said the combination of high winds and a faulty localizer resulted in the cancellations. Pitkin County alerted residents that a high-wind advisory was in effect until midnight Thursday, with winds between 20 and 30 miles per hour and gusts as high as 70 mph.

“The localizer is part of the instrument landing system,” said Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. “If it’s down, airplanes can’t land during bad weather. Our technicians typically try to work very quickly to restore service, depending on what the problem is.”

When flying conditions are good, the localizer isn’t necessary for pilots to land their aircraft. But the localizer is used for guided instrument landings during adverse weather.

Weather permitting, a Federal Aviation Administration aircraft will try some approach landings today at the Aspen airport to see if the localizer is working properly, Lunsford said. If it is, flights could resume as early as Friday afternoon, he said.

Lunsford said the FAA, while doing a routine inspection of the Aspen Mountain localizer earlier this week, became concerned when it wasn’t working properly.

“We were getting readings that were out of tolerance for the localizer,” he said, adding that “we could not guarantee the localizer was working.”

The localizer is located on Aspen Mountain, Bingham said.

Bill Tomcich, head of the central reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass, said even if the localizer had been working, it’s doubtful aircraft could have taken off or landed because of the high winds.