A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport concerning an aircraft curfew violation in early January.
The violation involving an American Airlines departure was brought to the airport’s attention by an Aspen Village resident who filed a formal complaint. Ellen Anderson said she heard the commercial aircraft from inside her home and noted that the noise occurred nearly a half-hour past the 10:30 p.m. curfew for departures. The curfew for arrivals is 11 p.m.
Airport staff determined that on Jan. 1, Flight 2965 departed at 10:56 p.m. and broke the curfew because it needed de-icing. The information was provided to the Pitkin County Attorney’s Office as a matter of policy.
A third-party administrative hearing officer will preside over the proceeding, which is set for 1:30 p.m. in the airport administration’s conference room. The hearing is open to the public, airport director John Kinney said.
Anderson said she and members of the Woody Creek Caucus are planning to attend the hearing. There are widespread concerns that the curfew has been violated more frequently in recent years, she said. Other issues involve the airport and the county’s policies and procedures relating to the handling of such infractions.
Anderson described the sound from the aircraft as a “huge nuisance.” She said she’s lived in Aspen Village, a neighborhood below the flight line for most departures and landings, for over 40 years. She said that on some days, especially following a bout of bad weather and heavy snowfall, the noise from airport operations is constant.
While some airport supporters may attack her comments as “obnoxious,” Anderson said there’s a strong reason for logging complaints about curfew violations and following up to ensure that infractions aren’t dismissed without due process.
“If we don’t protect our curfew, we may lose it,” she said. “I’m being something of a pit bull and not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
The curfew also mandates that departures and arrivals cannot occur before 7 a.m. The restrictions were approved by the FAA and authorized by Congress at the airport’s request over a decade ago. They also are part of Pitkin County government’s legal code pertaining to airport operations.
Kinney said the hearing will be the first regarding curfew violations since he was hired in December 2014. An issue at the hearing will be whether the pilot had “extenuating circumstances” that allowed a departure past curfew.
Kinney said he wasn’t sure what the potential penalties could be if the pilot or the airline is found to be at fault. He said there was poor weather resulting in low visibility on Jan. 1, and American Airlines and other commercial carriers experienced a number of operational delays.
The airport discourages curfew extensions, and that message has been relayed to staff and the airlines, Kinney said. The rules are supposed to be strictly enforced, but there are curfew exceptions for medical transports and other emergencies, he said.
Kinney said it’s helpful when residents bring information to the airport regarding curfew violations and other issues. He said he doesn’t believe there’s been an uptick in curfew violations in recent years, adding that “the number of operations past curfew have been rather consistent.”
He noted that there was another complaint of a curfew violation last summer but the facts didn’t rise to the need for an administrative hearing.
A Feb. 23 letter to editor of the Aspen Daily News from Bill Dinsmoor, moderator of the Woody Creek Caucus, expressed frustration with regard to follow-up and resolution of curfew violations.
“It is not so much that there are more violations, it’s that it is hard to judge as incident statistics are either not reported to the county, or not maintained, and certainly are not reported to the public,” he wrote. “It is our contention that strict adherence to an open and public notification of incidents at the airport would go a long way to rebuild trust and confidence in that what we are being told regarding all operations at the airport is accurate.”
Anderson said the airport has to be held accountable for living up to its own standards.
“This is not about me versus the airport,” she said. “It’s about whether the rules are being eroded.”