Aspen Airport had one of its best winters ever for passenger boardings |

Aspen Airport had one of its best winters ever for passenger boardings

Scott Condon / The Aspen Times
This graph shows the trend at Aspen Airport for passenger boardings during ski seasons back to 2003-04. The top line is the seats on completed flights. The bar shows the occupancy level. Aspen's carriers had about 200,000 available seats on completed flights and just under 150,000 passenger boardings this ski season.
Courtesy Bill Tomchich / The Aspen Times

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.

“It’s the most we’ve seen in recent history going back to the early 1990s,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass and the local business community’s liaison to the airline industry.

There were slightly more than 200,000 seats on flights leaving Aspen between Dec. 1 and April 30, Tomcich said. Almost 72 percent of them were filled.

The biggest change in Aspen’s service between now and 25 years ago is where the flights are coming from. In the 1990s, United and Continental provided service between Aspen and Denver. This winter, United, American and Delta provided as many as 38 flights per day, only nine from Denver. The air carriers provided nonstop service from eight other cities.

“It was the greatest variety of seats from nonstop hubs that we’ve even seen,” Tomcich said.

United, America and Delta all serve Aspen through SkyWest Airlines using the CRJ-700 aircraft.

All three carriers provided service from Los Angeles. American and United competed with direct flights from Chicago. Other nonstop flights came from Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco.

United operated as many as nine flights per day between Aspen and Denver. That was down from as many as 12 flights per day the winter before.

United saw its share of the market shrink in 2016-17 after seven consecutive years of growth. However, it still accounted for more than two of every three passengers boarding flights in Aspen. It topped 100,000 passenger boardings this winter. Delta and American increased their market share.

There have been more seats available out of the Aspen airport in other seasons, but the occupancy rate this winter, known as the “load factor” in the airline industry, was at a relatively high level of 72 percent this winter, according to data provided by Tomcich.

The number of commercial flights serving Aspen actually dropped by 1.7 percent from last season. However, that was offset because most of the CRJ-700 aircraft serving Aspen were reconfigured from 63 or 65 seats to 70, Tomcich said, so the capacity of the commercial flights was even with the prior year.

Aspen once again exhibited its air superiority over other Western mountain resort airports this winter, Tomcich said. It had more seats on scheduled flights and more passenger boardings than major competitors — including Eagle County Airport. Aspen Airport first overtook Eagle County Airport for scheduled seats in 2013-14. It’s increased the margin each of the last three seasons.

Eagle used to have a significant advantage in the number of nonstop flights from different cities, Tomcich said. Now, its only advantage is from New York City and Miami, and limited service from Toronto.

As Aspen has attracted more nonstop service, customers have responded.

“It’s become more attractive for guests to fly into Aspen Airport,” he said, “even if it comes at a price premium.”

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