Aspen should not stand for a dangerous airport

Aspen has some of the best care for ski mountains and skiing in the world, some of the best cross-country skiing and hiking trails, world-class music, the Aspen Institute, and award-winning hotels and restaurants. A classic safe town. The same goes for Snowmass.

But, can you believe among all this excellence, we are home to the most dangerous airport in the United States with 50 crashes in 55 years of aircraft coming and going from our airport. We have a record of tragedy second to none.

Of course, this is the reason why the No. 1 expressed concern of the Airport Vision Committee was and is “safety.”

Yet despite all this, the vision process shortchanged safety needs and the airport is planning to expand, to allow larger, heavier commercial and general aviation airplanes. And the committee members never received the requested performance specifications for the different aircraft proposed for future service into the airport.

Since an aborted landing of a heavy loaded aircraft requires a 180-degree turn back out of the valley (which is highly unusual), some aircraft make it, others might not, especially if an engine fails. We should know the different capabilities of the different aircraft now.

If no one will inform us, we should do it ourselves. An airport that regains control over ground issue (while the FAA handles air safety), can discriminate against various commercial and private aircraft. It also can demand that any private pilot who plans to come to the Aspen airport must first pass a vigorous mountain flying exam or pay a steep penalty.

If we pause now and take the time to get our options clear and properly explored, especially those not yet considered, there is a lot we can do to assure ourselves and our guests that we have done all we can to make our airport as safe and as first-class as our mountains. In a place with so much wonderment and joy due to many great planners, managers and employees, it is inconceivable that we would tolerate a dangerous airport, let alone the most dangerous in the U.S.

John McBride


P.S. Last spring I voted for the Vision Committee recommendations, because they included two ideas I had fought for:

1. Leave the runway where it is, and don’t move it 80 feet to the west, putting incoming and outgoing aircraft closer to Shale Bluffs, and

2. Move some of the general aviation aircraft to the west side of the runway.

Now I see there is no plan for a west side taxiway, but instead, a midfield crossing. Today, I would vote no. Such a plan would make our dangerous airport even more so.