Aspen airport will see surge in ski season service in 2017-18
The Aspen Times
Competition among three major airlines is resulting in a surge in ski season flights for Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.
American, Delta and United will increase their number of flights in winter 2017-18, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency. As the schedule stands now, there will be a 22 percent increase in the number of seats into Aspen from 222,590 on flights last season to 271,403 on scheduled flights this season.
“This is as much air service as we could have dreamed of,” Tomcich said. “The caveat is that it is subject to change.”
The airlines likely will pare some of the planned service as ski season nears. But currently, the number of flights is up 18.5 percent per week from Dec. 15 to Jan. 5; up nearly 27 percent between Jan. 8 and Feb. 14; and up 18 percent from Feb. 15 to April 2, according to Tomcich’s numbers.
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport had one of its busiest ski seasons ever in 2016-17 when just shy of 150,000 passengers boarded commercial flights.
Tomcich noted the airlines have added the vast majority of new flights prior to 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m. to avoid overwhelming the terminal and air space. The Federal Aviation Administration will enforce stricter limits on the number of operations per hour at the airport this winter. That enforcement will have the greatest impact in the middle of the day, Tomcich said.
“Capacity increases of this magnitude from all three of our commercial airline partners demonstrates both an extraordinary commitment and strong confidence in our market,” Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Director John Kinney said in a prepared statement. “This truly underscores the need for planned ongoing facility improvements.”
During the Christmas and New Year’s period, the three air carriers will team for 269 flights per week, up from 227 last year. On the busiest Saturdays during the holiday period, there are a total of 40 commercial flights scheduled.
Tomcich said he hasn’t compared the total number of seats scheduled for winter 2017-18 to the numbers available when United and Continental provided so many flights in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, the big difference is the direct connections available now. United and Continental offered most of their service between Aspen and Denver. The three carriers these days offer direct flights from major markets throughout the country.
American Airlines will offer up to eight flights daily from four hubs — Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Chicago.
Delta Airlines will offer up to six flights daily plus an extra flight on Saturdays during the holidays from Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Minneapolis.
United Airlines will boost its service to 25 flights daily during peak season, including up to nine flights daily between Aspen and Denver at peak. It will also offer service from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Tomcich expects that the greater opportunities to fly direct to Aspen will result in fewer visitors flying into Denver International Airport and Eagle County Airport and then driving to Aspen.
“The numbers at the end of the season will certainly tell that story,” he said.
Customers will benefit in more ways than convenience.
The increase in service, Tomcich predicted, will create “downward pressure on fares.” The average fare dropped 3 percent during the first quarter of 2017, he noted, but Aspen still saw the highest fares among ski town airports.