Commercial flights to Aspen Airport remain canceled after unannounced FAA maintenance

Private planes line up for take off on the tarmac at Aspen / Pitkin County Airport as thunderstorm clouds hover over the surrounding mountains on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Commercial flights remain immobilized. (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

Commercial airline traffic to Aspen was abruptly halted on Wednesday after the Federal Aviation Administration withdrew a regional navigation aid for maintenance without notice to local authorities, sources said Thursday.

No scheduled United and U.S. airline flights were able to land in Aspen on Wednesday, and the commercial schedule was in limbo Thursday morning as airline rules state that the navigation aid must be operational to fly to Aspen under low cloudy ceilings, said Dan Bartholomew, airport director.

“We were not informed of this,” he said Thursday morning. “The FAA had it as scheduled maintenance. I guess they thought time wouldn’t turn out the way it did. That’s what he did and they were kind of stuck.



Questions emailed to the FAA did not receive an immediate response Thursday morning.

The navigation aid on Table Mountain near Basalt is only needed in inclement weather conditions and would not have been a problem had there been clear skies over Aspen said Bartholomew. When the weather changed, SkyWest Airlines, which operates flights to Aspen for American and United, requested that the navigation aid work to land in Aspen, he said.



Instrument landings in such situations would have been acceptable if the navigation aid had worked.

As it stands, American has canceled three flights, while United has canceled nine flights, Bartholomew said. Private planes were not affected unless they were operated under similar flight rules.

Commercial flights on Thursday morning were also canceled, although afternoon flights are still scheduled, according to the Aspen Airport website.

“The airport remains open,” he said.

Bartholomew said airlines “are hopeful” the weather will clear up with the afternoon schedule. The FAA’s navigation aid went offline Thursday morning.

“All we’ve heard from them is they’re rewiring something,” Bartholomew said. “We are not aware of the details.”

The storms at the start of the week had been forecast several days in advance.

Bill Tomcich, a local air travel consultant, said several commercial flights Wednesday and Thursday were diverted to other airports or canceled.

“It’s horrible timing,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate.”

It’s a developing story that will be updated.


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