De-icing

A commercial jet undergoes a de-icing procedure Thursday at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. De-icing is said to have been a factor in a Jan. 1 American Airlines flight to Los Angeles that departed past the local 10:30 p.m. curfew, causing controversy.

American Airlines has admitted to two recent violations of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport’s curfew, according to County Attorney John Ely.

Ely said he spoke this week with legal counsel for the commercial airline and a disposition was ironed out in lieu of an administrative hearing at the airport that had been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. That hearing was canceled on Tuesday.

Hearings relating to airport curfew infractions are open to the public, Ely said, indirectly speaking to the concerns of some residents of Woody Creek and Aspen Village who believed the county would disallow the public from attending.

However, Ely said public comments are not taken at administrative hearings as they often are during meetings of elected officials. Such hearings are more akin to court proceedings than government meetings, he added.

On Monday, Aspen Village resident Ellen Anderson alerted the Aspen Daily News to a Jan. 1 curfew violation she reported to the airport personally. Ely said American Airlines admitted to the infraction, a departure that occurred after the 10:30 p.m. curfew, as well as to another post-curfew departure that took place on Dec. 29. Both flights were bound for Los Angeles.

An airline attorney “told me that they would be admitting to both of those violations,” Ely said Thursday.

Curfew violations can carry fines of up to $1,000 each, he said. An administrative hearing to determine the exact penalties will be scheduled next week, for some unspecified date.

Anderson said it appears that she and other residents concerned about airport noise and disregard for the curfew are making headway. She said many complaints over the years have not been properly addressed.

“This is just the beginning, but I’m always encouraged by progress,” she said.

While the curfew for departures is 10:30 p.m., the cut-off time for arrivals is 11 p.m. Flights into or out of the airport cannot resume until 7 a.m. The restrictions were approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress more than a decade ago, and are written into the section of Pitkin County legal code relating to airport operations.

The flap over recent curfew violations coincides with the start of community meetings on the airport’s future. Airport officials and supporters say that Sardy Field needs a runway expansion to accommodate the new generation of jets that will be flying into Aspen to replace the soon-to-be obsolete CRJ700s currently serving commercial carriers. They believe a larger terminal also is necessary to handle an expected increase in commercial traffic.

Anderson said she has been appointed to one of the four committees that will meet over the next year to lay out the community’s vision for the facility’s future. For now, though, she said she’s focused on curfew violations, which seem to be happening more regularly.

She tried to report on an arrival that she alleges was late on Sunday night, but had difficulty using the airport’s online reporting system. Anderson said she could have used an airport phone number for the same purpose, but she preferred the online system as it creates a paper trail.

Ely said he spoke with Anderson about problems with the online reporting system and the county is taking steps to address them. Airport Director John Kinney said earlier this week that the airport has low tolerance concerning curfew violations, which typically are only allowed in the event of medical transports and in-flight emergencies.

To log a complaint about airport noise or possible curfew violations, visit aspenairport.com/airport-adminstration/report-noise and fill out the online form. Or, call (970) 379-8406 to discuss the issue with airport staff or to leave a message.

The Woody Creek Caucus has invited airport and county officials to its March 28 meeting. Caucus members plan to voice their concerns and ask questions on topics related to noise and future expansion plans.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.

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