Big planes could have trouble at new airport
November 8, 2018
It's hard to find an apt analogy for the plans to expand the Aspen airport without resorting to mention of sexual acts highly condemned in the Bible. This is not merely the effort to force a square peg into a round hole, this is the effort to force a 737 scale plane into a geography that challenges the best pilots merely flying a single engine Cessna. Anyone who has ever landed a plane at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport knows that there are a few unremitting features that fairly shout not to do an expansion of this scale. Those features include geology, altitude and mountain weather.
The normal landing pattern at the Aspen airport is on runway 15, an approach from downvalley heading almost due south. No matter what sort of plane you're flying, you have three things working against you at the Aspen airport: the thin air, which hurts wing performance; the geology, which is kind of rocky and mountainous here in the Rocky Mountains; and the mountain weather with its unpredictable and severe gusts of wind.
The Aspen airport is unforgiving to bad landings because the approach is crowded by Shale Bluffs on the west, and all those pesky mountains if you miss your landing and need to do a go-around. Once you lower your plane to say 8,400 feet and decide you need to abort the landing because of cross winds, mechanical issues or poor approach, getting even a small plane up and around safely is always difficult. It's a dead-dead-end valley with mountains quickly rising to 12,000 feet and higher. The thought of 737s lumbering into the valley, missing their landing and trying to climb back up for another try should give planners pause.
Add to that the severe mountain crosswinds — never predictable — and the thin air that lowers a plane's performance, and this project of nearly half a billion dollars is clearly misguided.
I join Paul Andersen, Thomas Daly, John McBride and David Bork in suggesting the Rifle airport as a better alternative for the big planes. This plan to force a large airport into a tiny valley is an idea that should be stopped on approach.
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