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Be Prepared for FAA Operation Changes for Mountain Flying

November 13, 2013  |  Travel Booking and Tips
An XOJET Citation X ready for takeoff at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (KASE), CO.

An XOJET Citation X ready for takeoff at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (KASE), CO.

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains at nearly 8,000 feet high, Aspen, Colorado offers year round cultural and natural beauty particularly during ski season. It’s no surprise a favorite spot for XOJET fliers to spend quality time with friends and family celebrating the holidays. However, what makes this destination a true jet-set kind of town isn’t the walk down Main Street or its slopes. In fact, it’s the memorable flying experience into the city, which many believe is half the experience.

Of the over 22,000 airport pairs we provide service to, Aspen is one of the most unique and challenging airports to navigate. Aside from its natural mountainous terrain and high altitude, Aspen–Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is just one of many mountain airports that require special operating procedures. In addition to FAA regulations, XOJET enforces strict guidelines for mountain flying which provide further safety assurances for our clients and crew.

This holiday season, the FAA will alter its operating procedures for three popular Colorado airports in ski country which may impact trip planning including Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE), Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE) and Garfield County “Rifle” (RIL). As you begin to plan your ski getaway, be sure to familiarize yourself with the upcoming changes and ways you can avoid potential delays:

  1. New FAA Ground Delay Program (GDP)

    In years past, the FAA required air providers to reserve airport slots for departures and arrivals into mountain airports. These slots could be secured up to 72 hours prior to your arrival or departure, and as late at 12 hours prior. This procedure will soon change for three Colorado Airports including Aspen (ASE), Eagle (EGE), and Rifle (RIL). Starting November 2013 through January 2014, the FAA will be moving away from a slot request system to a Ground Delay Program (or GDP for short). This new program is a significant operating change for air providers into mountain airports and may impact arrival times.

    The Federal Aviation Administration will discontinue use of a legacy air-traffic slot-reservation program for Colorado ski airports

    Under the Ground Delay Program, the FAA will allow air providers to depart at any time without pre-reserving a slot. The challenge now becomes the number of arrival requests, particularly during peak travel days and times. Once the volume exceeds the airports operating limits, the airport may issue a Ground Delay Program which holds flights at departure airports for an estimated amount of time – or possibly hours. During this time, the FAA will piece together all the requests and issue individual departure clearances one flight at a time. These types of programs are common for highly congested airports including New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Chicago (ORD). This is not to be mistaken with a Holding Pattern, which requires the flight to circle the arrival airport until cleared to land.

  2. “Sun Down” Policy

    To provide XOJET fliers with the highest level of safety, we have chosen not to provide service into mountain airports at night unless equipped with a ground-to-air guidance system. If arrival times begin to shift too close to sunset, our operations team will plan for alternate arrival airports. Currently, the only neighboring airport to support night flying through a ground-to-air guidance system is in Rifle, Colorado. Should you need to arrive in the evening, Rifle is the closest airport to Aspen with an instrument landing system.

  3. Nonstandard ground operation

    ASE Airport is designed and constructed around one runway, which also serves as an active taxiway. This means the airport can only accept one aircraft at a time which significantly limits and impacts aircraft movement on the ground.

How to avoid a potential delay or diversion?

As ski season approaches, we encourage fliers to be flexible and plan with a few options in mind:

  1. Arrive outside of Aspen

    While the convenience of ASE Airport is ideal, we suggest fliers explore other neighboring airports within a one hour radius. XOJET can arrange ground transportation to ensure a smooth and efficient trip, from start to finish.

  2. Arrive before sunset

    We encourage fliers to be flexible when selecting departure and arrival times. Depending on the time of the day, we have seen a significant increase in traffic flying into ASE airport which may result in longer-than-expected delays.

  3. Fly during off-peak days of the week

    Start your trip earlier! Flying times are significantly less impacted during the middle of the week and are often well priced given lower demand.

We’re here to help. Our Aviation Advisors and Trip Managers will continue to manage and plan for all operational changes into ski country in the Colorado mountains.



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