Will Aspen airport traffic take off when Eagle shuts down?

Wyatt Haupt Jr.
Eagle, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” When Aspen/Pitkin County Airport shut down in April 2007 for a two-month long runway improvement project, the immediate beneficiary was the airfield in Gypsum.

“United (Airlines) almost doubled the amount of flights they were making (here),” said Eagle County Regional Airport Terminal Manager Chris Anderson.

That move by United helped push passenger traffic up 134 percent in April 2007, when compared with the same period a year earlier. The following month was nearly as good, as passenger traffic soared 115 percent from May 2006 at Eagle County Regional Airport.

The rise in passenger counts helped turn around an otherwise meager start to 2007 for Eagle, in which traffic was off more than 6 percent through the first three months of the year.

But the possibility of Aspen/Pitkin County Airport experiencing a similar surge in traffic when the airfield in Eagle County soon shuts down for its runway rehabilitation project is less likely.

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For one, no airline has added any additional flights to Aspen for the nearly five months Eagle will be shuttered to commercial traffic. Eagle airport is scheduled to shut down April 15 and reopen Sept. 1, based on a construction timeline for the $22 million project.

“We have not had communications with the airlines,” said Sardy Field’s Director of Aviation Jim Elwood. “That is not to say they aren’t going to change their flight schedule if they saw enough additional need.”

For people who are trying to get to places like Vail or Beaver Creek, it would seem to make more sense to fly into Denver International Airport because of proximity.

Some of those passengers also could fly into Grand Junction Regional Airport but that appears remote unless they are motivated by other factors, such as lower airfares.

On a potentially brighter note, Aspen could score with travelers who plan on visiting the Roaring Fork Valley and places along the Interstate 70 corridor in the spring and summer months.

That would most certainly boost passenger counts in a historically slow period for the Aspen airport.

A total of 20,193 people passed through the Aspen facility in April 2008, according to records. That was the third lowest month of the year.

The figure was lower yet for April 2007, in which 11,328 passengers went through the airport. However that figure was skewed by the Aspen runway project, which started April 9 and ended June 7.

The $11.9 million project included the removal and replacement of the runway pavement.

“We had a few issues along the way,” Elwood said. “But we spent the better part of three years planning that project. That effort paid off when it came time to do the work.

“We obviously wish them (Eagle) well. It’s always tough on an airport, and the community, for it to be closed.”

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