Scott: Aspen/Pitkin County Airport operations could be at the vanguard
On Sunday, April 2, yet another private jet slid off the runway, shutting down the airport for the rest of the day, inconveniencing many hundreds of travelers – many of them commercial passengers who were trying to get back for work on Monday.
This was an “excursion” event. There were six of them last year (Aspen Daily News, “Jet Slides Off Aspen Runway on Sunday,” April 4). Luckily, these excursion events have not led to any fatalities, yet.
In 2001, 18 people died when a Gulfstream private jet crashed trying to land in a snowstorm on the way from Los Angeles. Bodies were strewn across the crash site. (chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2001-03-30-0103300326-story.html). First responders reported seeing some of the dead still strapped into their seats separate from the dismembered fuselage.
In 2014, another private jet, this one flying in from Tucson, crash landed, killing one pilot and seriously wounding the other two people on board. (aviationweek.com/business-aviation/safety-ops-regulation/aspen-pilots-want-improve-airports-safety-record,)
Most of the “excursions” have been planes going off the right side of the runway as the planes land. The planes are usually damaged, and heavy equipment brought out to get them moved. “The plane took an excursion” sounds quite innocent, like the type of fun little outing an airplane was meant for. What if one of these private jets comes in too fast and has an excursion off to the left, where commercial planes sit taxiing, and smashes into a commercial airliner full of people?
There have not been any commercial airline crashes or fatalities at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. Commercial pilots must get special certifications and training to land at or take off from Aspen’s notoriously dangerous airport. This is not the case for general aviation – and especially not so if the Pitkin County owners of the airport award another 30-year contract to a massive fixed-base operator beholden to shareholders over passengers.
It does make sense for the county to take control of fixed-base operations at the airport, and if Aspen and its county government want to see themselves as “at the vanguard,” what with their pioneering plastic bag ban (aspentimes.com/news/a-short-history-of-single-use-bag-fees-or-how-aspen-runs-at-the-vanguard/), then it makes sense for us to put safety first at our airport and ban all private jets without leading edge flaps (Many of the Falcon jets have this feature and are thus a safer variety for landing in such precarious conditions as are present at Aspen’s airport).
This would not only make our airport safer, but it might also get some of the primarily unoccupied mega-mansion owners who only come to town on their or their friends’ planes to list their homes for sale, maybe driving prices down in this massively inflated market, and opening up some of those mansions for purchase by our fat cat county and city governments with their two hundred million dollar a year budgets.
They can buy up the mansions, subdivide them, and save themselves the exorbitant expense of trying to build a housing development where we already have a lucrative and convenient lumberyard. While we certainly should not expand the runway, we also should not build more housing right next to it. We are already choking on the exhaust, if not the pervasive hogwash.
A “quockerwodger” is a slang term that originated in Britain in the 1850s to describe a wooden toy figure of a person whose limbs jerk wildly when you pull a string. “The term quockerwodger … has been supplemented with a political meaning. A pseudo-politician, one whose strings of action are pulled by somebody else, is now often termed a quockerwodger” (Definitions.net).
From public art projects to ever more public money being delivered to consulting firms in galaxies far away, it seems the massive budgets our city and county administer are often not going to solve the most pressing problems faced by constituents, like traffic and housing.
If the county took over operations at the FBO, it could massively increase its revenues from the airport. After banning private jets that endanger the public, there would be more space for commercial traffic, and the revenues from gas sales, which are so lucrative to the county would not dry up.
At the same time, since over 70% of current air traffic and therefore carbon emissions at the airport are from general aviation (aspentimes.com/news/private-aviation-soars-in-aspen/), reducing the jet traffic into and out of the airport would also reduce the overall emissions and the particulate pollution that draws complaints from folks at the AABC to Buttermilk to the golf course.
Welcome to Aspen, Colorado – where safety is first, and we’re at the vanguard, so we’re banning private jets.
Andrew Scott, of Snowmass, is the manager of KSNO radio and director of operations of the Open Mind Project.