Airplane final approach

A private plane in final approach nears the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport on Tuesday. A Federal Aviation Administration modification to the Temporary Flight Restriction at the airport will allow for normal operations of commercial carriers starting Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. During the past week, at least 111 flights bound for Aspen were either diverted or cancelled. The bulk of private aviation was not impacted.

Restrictions on airspace surrounding the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport will be eased on Wednesday morning, as containment of the Lake Christine Fire continues, according to Fil Meraz, airport operations director. 

That will allow up to 40 scheduled flights to arrive and depart on July 11, which would mark the first day of normal operations for the airport since the Fourth of July. 

An FAA-approved modification to the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) was announced Tuesday. The TFR was mandated last week because of the Lake Christine Fire, which is now at 6,285 acres, and remains in effect; the modification is contingent on whether or not fixed-wing planes are active in the fire fighting area, Meraz said. As of Tuesday night the fire was 43 percent contained. 

Since July 4, when the aerial attack was initially waged on the fire at the Lake Christine range, the flight restriction has been in effect from 9 a.m. until 9:15 p.m.  impacting the bulk of three airlines’ schedules.

That TFR has resulted in 111 commercial flights bound for Aspen either cancelled or diverted to Grand Junction, Meraz confirmed. 

Because the airport is open until 11 p.m., eight planes were able to land on Monday night after the daily TFR restriction was lifted and before the morning’s curfew was started. 

General aviation is not as impacted because those planes can potentially fly around the TFR, using less restrictive visual flight rules, according to Meraz. However, for-hire charters must adhere to the instrument approach pathway, like the commercial flights. 

In a published release, Meraz noted that, “The TFR that was implemented at the outset of the Lake Christine Fire will remain in effect until the threat of a spreading wildfire is over. It is essential to clear air traffic in the vicinity of the aerial firefighting operations. Flights could once again be canceled or delayed as needed by the firefighting operation.”

Flight arrival and departure information has been posted to Aspenairport.com as well as the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s Facebook page. Meraz, who is acting aviation director this week for John Kinney, advises travelers to contact their airlines for up-to-date information. Channel 8, which normally posts up to date flights, was out of service Tuesday.

Many Aspenites trying to return home from long Fourth of July weekends were thwarted from landing on home turf but some allowed that the airlines were doing their best job at accommodating passengers. Also negatively impacted have been taxi drivers and airport concessionaires, who had plenty of time on their hands Tuesday afternoon during what would normally be a busy time of day during a busy time of year.

Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at madski@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @Madski99