Private jet’s engine blast damages up to 30 vehicles at airport
The engines from a private jet at the Aspen airport flung rocks and debris into a long-term parking lot Friday, damaging more than 20 vehicles.
As many as 30 vehicles may have been pelted, said airport director Jim Elwood, who added that the pilot was gunning the engines as part of a gauge test.
The accident happened around 1:30 p.m. near the long-term economy parking lot. The spot the pilot chose is not designated for such tests, Elwood said.
“This is a highly unusual event to have happen,” he said.
Some of the damaged vehicles remained in the lot on Tuesday, and Elwood said it was likely that their owners had not yet returned.
The jet, an eight-passenger Citation X, belongs to Flight Options, a fractional-ownership aviation venture based in Richmond Heights, Ohio. A press release the firm sent out in March said “Flight Options has earned a reputation as a leader and innovator within the private jet industry.”
And they’re right in at least the latter sense — a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman reached Tuesday said the incident was a new one to him.
Allen Kenitzer, spokesman for the FAA’s Northwest Mountain Region, said the damaging engine test had not been yet been reported to federal authorities. Asked what, if anything, had happened to pilots in similar scenario, he said his agency doesn’t speculate and, anyway, “I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve never heard of one like this.”
Ted Rogachuk, flight safety manager with Flight Options, said his company is reviewing the incident with the air traffic control tower to determine exactly what occurred. The company is also reviewing it with the flight crew.
“But our first priority is to address the concerns [from] the damages caused,” he said. “We’re working closely with our insurance company.”
Rogachuk said Flight Options employs “very veteran” pilots and that while the crew had likely been to Sardy Field previously, they might not have been in the particular spot where the engines were blasted.
Just before the test, which lasted 20 to 30 seconds, the pilot called the control tower. But he or she didn’t say that they needed to perform a “high-thrust” check, Elwood said.
“It would have been helpful if they had described their intentions more clearly” to the tower, he said. The plane, which was not in the process of taking off, would have been directed to another location on the runway. The ongoing construction of a longer runway was not a factor, Elwood said.
“It was a regretful accident and a poor choice by the aircraft operator to do a high-powered run-up [of the engines] right there,” he said.
The engines were pointed toward the parking lot, says a report by Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy Grant Jahnke. He wrote that 23 vehicles were dinged up, including seven with damaged windows. Elwood put the total number at about 30.
“Luckily no one was injured to our knowledge, but this incident caused damaged to multiple vehicles, ranging from broken windows to small dents and chips,” says a memo from Dustin Havel, the airport’s training, safety and standards coordinator.
To process insurance claims, airport staff placed flyers on vehicles’ windshields with a phone number for Flight Options. They also taped heavy plastic to some windows.
“We wanted to be good neighbors,” Elwood said.
Flight Options’ internal review will cover current company policies about jet blasts, Rogachuk said.
“We take safety very seriously,” he said.