On Monday, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport had its busiest day — in terms of commercial flight activity — since the COVID-19 pandemic sank air travel to unexpected lows in late March.
Bill Tomcich, air industry consultant and a local liaison to the airlines, said the Labor Day experience at the airport included 12 flights: eight that were originally scheduled and four that were added just days before the weekend due to high demand.
American Airlines added two flights from Dallas-Fort Worth. United Airlines added two flights from Denver. Those were in addition to American’s previously scheduled flights from Dallas and Chicago, and United’s scheduled flights that included four from Denver, one from San Francisco and one from Chicago.
On March 20, the Aspen airport accommodated 21 commercial flights from three airlines (Delta Air Lines also had flights in the mix) out of 33 that had been previously scheduled. The day after that, and through April and May, local demand for air travel demand sank dramatically. A significant comeback occurred in July and August, but the figures did not hit 12 flights in a single day.
Now, the situation is looking better, Tomcich said Thursday.
“Everything is trending in the right direction — both in capacity and demand,” he said.
Tomcich said September’s demand is considerably stronger than previously expected for commercial flight activity at ASE, the three-letter identifier for the local airport.
For example, American now has 64 scheduled flights for the month, 17 more than was planned a few weeks ago. United has 144 scheduled flights, 22 more than previously.
Generally, American flies twice daily from Dallas and three times a week from Chicago. United has four to five flights daily from Denver and one flight daily from Chicago.
Delta Air Lines has suspended its Aspen service indefinitely, recently announcing that it would not return for the 2020-21 ski season. The carrier has said it hopes to be back in Aspen for the following winter season.
Tomcich said American and United’s late additions to Aspen’s September flight schedules were simply a response to demand.
“It’s highly unusual for airlines to add flights at the last minute,” he said.
He said a number of factors have come into play to boost demand, including summer residency relocations to Aspen and availability in the Aspen-Snowmass lodging market that wasn’t quite there in September 2019.
“As a general trend, there are a lot more people coming here last minute, and there are a lot more people coming here and staying here,” Tomcich said.
In other airport-related news:
• From Monday through Thursday, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will be closed to all commercial and private air traffic to allow maintenance and painting to runway 15/33 as well as taxiway and ramp surfaces. Aircraft operations will be limited to emergency medical and mountain rescue operations. The runway will reopen at 7 a.m. on Friday.
The terminal building will remain open during the airfield closure during regular business hours. Questions regarding impacted flights should be directed to respective carriers: American Airlines, 1-800-433-7300, and United Airlines 1-800-864-8331.
• The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners’ reviews of ASE Vision Committee recommendations will continue with a scheduled work session on Tuesday.
While commissioners have discussed many of the goals and recommendations stemming from the yearlong ASE Vision process, they have yet to discuss the proposed widening of the airport’s runway to accommodate a new generation of jets with wider wingspans. The widening also could allow larger aircraft, commercial and private, to utilize the local runway.
A proposed September timeline in which commissioners were expected decide whether to advance the ASE Vision’s “common ground” concepts won’t take place until after the work session. A stated first reading of the resolution had been set for the BOCC’s Wednesday regular meeting, but did not occur. First-reading and final-reading dates of Sept. 9 and 23 were “placeholders” in the meeting agendas and have since been removed, said Interim Airport Director Rich Englehart, who also is an assistant county manager.