Aspen to see boost in flights for ski season |

Aspen to see boost in flights for ski season

Courtesy Aspen-Pitkin County AirportA Frontier Airlines jet taxis on the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway. Both Frontier and United will add flights to Aspen for the coming ski season.

ASPEN, Colorado – If Aspen and Snowmass Village have poor tourist numbers this winter, it won’t be for lack of commercial airline flights.

Frontier announced this week it will boost its number of weekend flights between Aspen and Denver for the winter. United Express will add weekend flights direct from Chicago for the winter, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings business. Tomcich is the local business community’s liaison to the airlines.

Frontier has offered four daily flights through its Lynx subsidiary since starting service to Aspen in April 2008. It will increase its weekend flights to five daily starting Dec. 19 and continuing through the ski season, Tomcich said. That represents a 7 percent increase in capacity.

United Express has increased direct service from Chicago throughout the week. The number of flights was increased from two to three from Monday through Friday; from three to five on Saturdays; and from three to four on Sundays, according to information received Tuesday by Tomcich. As of this week, it appeared United’s remaining schedule is similar to last year. That includes its bread-and-butter service between Aspen and Denver as well as direct flights to Aspen from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The increased service by the airlines will result in a 9 to 10 percent increase in capacity into the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in January, according to an analysis by Tomcich. He expects a similar increase for February and March.

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The increased service is a simple reflection of supply and demand, according to Jim Elwood, director of aviation at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

“As we are able to prove to the carriers our demand hasn’t fallen off the way other communities have, it puts us in a place to maintain our service into the future. That’s happened here very dramatically,” Elwood said in a recent interview.

When Frontier started its Lynx service to Aspen last year, it increased the flights in the market and decreased airfares. The average airfare from Aspen to all destinations decreased about $38 between the first quarter of 2007 and first quarter 2009, according to research by David Ulane, assistant aviation director. The average one-way fare in 2007 was $308.38. It was $278.44 in the first quarter of this year, according to information reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That decrease more than offsets the $25 one-way checked bag fee that most airlines have implemented, the airport staff noted.

The airlines are increasing their service at a time when their business is snapping out of a minor slump during the recession. The number of passengers boarding flights in Aspen increased by 3.5 percent in August and 4.4 percent in September, according to statistics reported by the airlines.

There were 500 more passenger boardings from June through September compared to the prior year. That was essentially flat – but at a time when many airports were showing drastic decreases.

Total passenger boardings year-to-date through September are down 4 percent. Most of that loss was suffered last ski season at the height of the recession. Passenger boardings fell 10 percent in both February and March, traditionally two of the busiest months.

Comparisons to 2007 aren’t valid because the airport was closed form April 9 through June 7 while the runway was rebuilt.

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