About a year ago, when everyone thought we'd have an FAA reauthorization bill passed within the fiscal year that it was supposed to be passed in, the Air Transport Association and practically everyone else who flies were in a pitched battle over the user fee issue. The brain trust at ATA came up with an idea to help sway the masses to their flawed logic that private aircraft were somehow to blame for airspace congestion, ground stops, terminal delays and every other scourge of modern air travel. ATA produced a slick little animated video that depicted a gate-crashing bizjet butting in line to take off ahead of long-suffering airliners so its rich occupants could make their tee time. Some airlines played it during their flights. It was offensive and laughable in the extreme, but fortunately ineffective. Airliners are not rich educational environments and the message got about as much attention as the seatbelt demo. And I think the people who had any interest at all in what the cartoon portrayed saw it for what it was: a cheap attempt to ram flawed propaganda into a captive audience.
But you can bet people in the gates at Aspen-Pitkin County Regional Airport were listening on March 15 when the PA system told them the reason they were stuck there was because there were too many private aircraft landing and taking off and all that traffic (about 100 flights) was delaying the arrivals and departures of commercial airliners. As anyone who has ever waited for a delayed flight (and who hasn't) knows, the airport PA system is the oracle of hope, the anonymous bearer of much-anticipated news and something that virtually everyone, particularly those who have languished a couple of hours, pays attention to. Now, there's some truth to what airport staff were booming to every frustrated soul in the airport. It was a busy day, largely because a storm had wiped out travel plans for both commercial and private aircraft travelers the previous day, bringing the snow that makes Aspen so popular (and profitable, should we add?). Then a private plane went off the runway and it took an hour to fish it out of the snow.
Seems to me like everyone was stuck in the same stew with capacity falling short of demand and people just having to wait their turn. What rankles is that airports have always been the middle ground in whatever differences there may have been between commercial and private aviation. In Aspen, of all places, it seems like private aviation is being viewed as a nuisance and something the local authorities are trying to discourage in favor of more airline service. Wonder how that stance is going over at the local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings, not to mention the real estate board? Airports seem to bring out the worst in people and it sounds like everyone was having a bad day on March 15. But it might be worth a few moments for NBAA and AOPA to get local airport authorities on the phone and remind them that airports are for all aircraft. Because if private aircraft access can be threatened in Aspen, it can happen anywhere.