Safety should be top priority for Aspen airport’s future

Safety should be top priority for Aspen airport’s future

Several organizations have labelled the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport “the most dangerous airport in the U.S.” That is primarily because our valley over the past 55 years has had almost as many crashes — i.e. 50.

That record cannot be attributed to the airport. Aspen may be the destination, but not the cause. The airport itself is efficiently run. It has an excellent runway, good lighting and skilled tower operators.

The source of our problem lies main with our location in the heart of the Rockies. At high altitude, air conditions, especially in narrow valleys, can be unpredictable and dangerous. Winds are squirrelly, especially near ridges. Moisture can be very variable — rain here, sleet or snow there.

I know. I have been flying for over 60 years and most of it has been in mountainous terrain. If we are going to improve safety for our airport destination, we do not need to focus just on the airport but rather the weather, the mountains and valleys nearby. I mean at least a 30- or 40-mile radius from the airport.

If we can learn to look at our airport as part of a much larger, vibrant system, and develop a greater understanding of the whole area, I believe we will have a better, safer airport.

Perhaps it would behoove a future airport authority to require all pilots flying to and from Aspen, now or in the future, to take a course in “Roaring Fork Destination Flying.” The course could cover many subjects. A few examples might be:

1. Loss of power and performance at high altitude.

2. Difficulty seeing other aircraft against a backdrop of snow or dark spruce trees, etc.

3. The unusual dangers of landing one way and taking off the other way, all on the same runway.

4. Typical patterns in the air to and from the airport, and coming to and from our multiple valleys, as well as deviations.

Also, if an airport authority could establish a maximum size for commercial carriers and a maximum number of landings per day for private transient planes, we could establish once and for all, the right size airport for its very limited footprint, which is only 575 acres — 1/60th the size of Denver International Airport.

All these suggested ideas fall under the No. 1 state and recorded goal of the appointed vision committee, which was and still is safety. To date, nothing has been offered to help make flying in our Roaring Fork Valley any safer. I hope thinking about our airport more as a much larger flying arear, and not just a destination, could be a start.

John McBride