Without snow, storm affects Aspen
December 28, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN A storm approaching Wednesday meant more cancellations for airports in Colorado’s mountains and beyond, on the heels of last week’s storm that grounded dozens of flights.”Everything seems to be back to our norm at our airport,” Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, said Thursday evening after the major storm passed Aspen. Tomcich said that while Denver had not yet ground to a halt, he expects more delays and cancellations today as snow built up there.The airlines were busy repositioning flights Thursday, and at least one extra craft was slated to spend the night in Aspen to ensure that flights would get out on time today.”They don’t want all airplanes trapped in Denver like last week,” Tomcich said.Jim Elwood, director of aviation at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, called this week’s low pressure over Aspen a rare situation, like being in the eye of a storm that has produced no precipitation.Low barometric readings in advance of a major storm prompted Wednesday’s cancellation of commercial flights into and out of Aspen. While flights resumed Thursday afternoon, more cancellations are likely as another storm hits other parts of Colorado.Wednesday’s problem affected the Bombardier CRJ-700 jets that provide both United and Delta service to the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. If the barometric pressure drops below 29.73 inches, Federal Aviation Administration restrictions prevent the takeoff or landing of the CRJ-700, Tomcich explained. The airport canceled 18 flights between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday because of the low pressure. Low pressure is characteristic of a large storm system, Tomcich said, and the resulting cancellations did not take the airlines or airport officials by surprise.But such drops in pressure usually accompany weather than would result in canceled flights anyway, he added. It’s rare to have such low pressure without severe weather, though that was the case Wednesday and early Thursday, when the weather was clear and plenty of travelers were scheduled to fly, but flights were canceled. “Everyone knew going into this project of providing continued commercial jet service into Aspen that periodic operational problems were inevitable,” Tomcich said in a prepared statement. And while groundings for low pressure are rare, that has affected the CRJ-700 three times since April, when it went into regular use in Aspen. On April 18, low pressure prompted the cancellation of one flight. And on Nov. 14 and 28, a combination of low visibility and low pressure canceled or affected flights. “I can certainly respect the frustrations of our travelers,” Tomcich said. The Canadian transportation administration has lifted the barometric restrictions on the Bombardier CRJ-700, and SkyWest officials are lobbying the FAA to do the same in the United States. SkyWest flies the jets for both United and Delta. While the barometer climbed above 29.73 inches shortly after noon Thursday, a large storm was already hitting Denver. Airport officials are offering bus and van connections for those who’ve missed flights, and additional craft on the ground in Aspen means flights should go off without a hitch today, but that all depends on the severity of the storm, Tomcich said.”Historically, Denver has been pretty good with their snow removal,” Elwood said. “If everything goes to expectations, the first flights will be able to go first thing in the morning.” Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.