Author Topic: Playing it safe at Aspen  (Read 12971 times)

Offline KB4TEZ

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Playing it safe at Aspen
« on: December 20, 2022, 02:12:26 PM »
(would love to hear from anyone who's had the pleasure of flying in/out of there)

Safety, safety, safety.

It’s a word that’s repeated often during nearly any discussion involving the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and plans for its redevelopment, or airport operations in general.

Safety was a primary topic during the 2019-20 ASE Vision process that led to the formation and adoption of the lengthy list of ­Common Ground recommendations for the redevelopment of the airport. Often, various forms of data are used to support the perception — some say the conclusion — that general aviation operations at the airport are less safe than commercial airline activity. Private jet activity, according to airport officials, accounts for around 80% of overall operations at ASE while commercial flight operations make up about 20%.

n recent months, no one has been singing the safety song louder than Barry Vaughn, an alternate member of the Airport Advisory Board. It was a primary point during his interview for a seat at the board’s table in September. And last month, he convinced other members of the board to join the safety dance through the creation of the “Flight Ops Safety Task Force.”

The task force, according to a county news release, will include local pilots with substantial experience operating at ASE. They will develop recommendations to enhance and improve safety, focusing on general aviation and cultivating partnerships with a variety of aviation organizations to explore opportunities that would help improve aviation safety at the local airport.

In a recent interview, Vaughn stressed that the story concerning the push for the task force was not about him, but the 12 pilots who have been named to the group. Their first meeting will be held on Monday.

“This is not about me,” said Vaughn, a pilot and former civil litigator who practiced in California, where he volunteered on boards to assist the Santa Monica airport with various issues. “To be clear: This is not about me beating my chest.”

Airport Director Dan Bartholomew, however, credited Vaughn with jumpstarting the entity on safety. He said while the task force would have been created eventually, Vaughn was responsible for a faster start.

“He has a passion for it,” ­Bartholomew said. “But I also think he knows some other folks in the valley that also have passion for it, and were eager to do it as well. So I think it was just was the right time, and he was willing to take it on.”

It’s no secret that the Aspen ­airport has had its fair share of emergencies, crashes and fatalities involving private aircraft over many decades.

Vaughn said he has been conducting research — at this point, it’s neither exhaustive nor complete — showing 124 accidents since 1964 that are in some way connected to the Aspen airport (such as a flight that originated locally or was bound for ASE) or surrounding airspace. Thirty-six of the 124 involved fatalities. He stressed that his research was not official.

“With most of them, I see a lot of incidents where pilots have taken off from here and they came to some kind of grief in the mountains and it doesn’t have anything to do with the conditions at the airport, it had to do with their mountain flying skills or lack of them, or something they ran into once they were more than five miles out from the airport,” Vaughn said.

So far in 2022, the Aspen airport has experienced six minor mishaps with private planes on airport property itself, according to Bartholomew. While in many cases the causes have yet to be fully revealed, either pilot error or some sort of mechanical problem is usually the culprit. Some of the situations involved a plane sliding off the runway, which results in the airport’s closure. Others are more serious, such as when a jet flew in too low on approach and clipped lights and equipment on the runway. There also have been fuel spills that have required extensive cleanup efforts.

But what can the task force do to help improve the safety record of private-aircraft operators and reduce accidents? U­nlike ­commercial airline pilots, fliers of private aircraft are not required to be trained and certified in the handling of the complexities involved in takeoffs and landings in and around Aspen and its mountainous surroundings.

Vaughn and Bartholomew said the task force will work to cultivate partnerships with a variety of aviation organizations to explore opportunities that would help improve aviation safety. The goal is to provide information that will educate private pilots in a way that’s encouraging and not mandatory. At some point, the pilots could receive extra certifications that could bring about professional opportunities or even liability insurance discounts.

Amory Lovins, a renowned physicist and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, has been critical of the county’s process involving redevelopment plans for the local airport. However, the Old Snowmass resident lauded the creation of the safety task force in an interview on Saturday when he discussed the creation of a new nonprofit that will be concerning itself with local airport issues.

“I was delighted to see that and I’ve actually written my thanks and congratulations for that safety initiative,” Lovins said. “It’s too early to see where it will go. But a group of expert local pilots certainly has a lot of potential to explore safety issues more deeply and broadly than has been done so far.”
« Last Edit: December 20, 2022, 03:05:21 PM by KB4TEZ »