High Points: Rough landings

Paul E. Anna
High Points

 This one kind of flew under the radar. Pun intended. 

On Monday afternoon, just about the time the rains came to Aspen, a tweet was sent out by @FlyAspenAirport — that would be the folks at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport — that read: “Update: Small GA Business Jet aircraft veered off the runway on landing. Currently awaiting approval to move the aircraft. We are anticipating the runway to be closed for at least the next hour.”

In fact, the incident shut down the airport for far more than just an hour. It was shuttered overnight canceling a significant number of flights Monday night and into Tuesday morning, due to the spillover. Now the High Point is, obviously, that no one was injured in the accident as said plane “veered off the runway on landing.” 

But what’s up with the private planes sliding off the runway these days? 

Back in February, on Presidents Day, one of the busiest days of the year, a Hawker 800XP jet bound for Austin, Texas, “veered” off the runway on takeoff and forced closure of the airport for about nine hours. And just a couple of days after that another private plane, an Embraer 135 charter jet, “deviated” from the runway also causing a closure. That’s three times in the past six months by my count that some sort of private plane problem has resulted in serious complications for hundreds of travelers. 

And on Monday the problem was compounded by the closure of Interstate 70 at the Grizzly burn scar for three or so hours. I saw at least three Aspen-Denver flights canceled with three more from the other direction that were also waylaid. That’s a lot of people searching for hotel rooms or trying to book rental cars on a Monday to continue their trips into and out of town. 

Of course, we should be grateful that no one was killed or injured in those incidents, as Sardy Field has a history of bad outcomes. It was back in 2014 that a Bombardier CL-600-2B16 Challenger crashed on a windy January day killing one of the two pilots. And in March 2001, a Gulfstream III slammed into the hillside, short of the runway, killing all 18 people on board. 

We all know that flying into Aspen is not for the faint of heart. It was not that long ago that Sardy Field was little more than a gravel airstrip founded by Walter Paepcke and John Spachner in 1946 to allow folks a way to get here other than driving U.S. Highway 6 and Colorado Highway 82 from Denver. Many remember the glory days of Aspen Airways; OK, maybe not that many, but you likely have seen the photos of the planes that flew in here until 1990. 

BuzzFeed, the website, recently posted a story featuring 19 airports around the world that pilots find, well, challenging. Our little strip came in at No. 9 between San Diego and Narita International in Tokyo. Obviously, for very different reasons. 

Anyone who has spent time flying in and out of the Aspen airport, or even driving past the tarmac, knows that private planes rule the roost. I live in the flight path of the takeoffs and one can hear the planes in constant succession as they take their passengers back to wherever it is they come from. There are more flights than ever these days, especially in the peak seasons. 

Let’s just hope that the pilots are up for the job and that there is a little less “veering” going on.