Dec. 2, 2013

Veteran business aviators know it as E-STMP (electronic special traffic management program) – the FAA’s air traffic slot reservation program, which for years has been used between November and January as a means of regulating traffic into three of the busiest airports in Colorado: Aspen-Pitkin County (ASE), Eagle County Regional (EGE) and Garfield County Regional “Rifle” (RIL).

This year, the FAA is not utilizing E-STMP, but NBAA air traffic specialists warn that decision will not mitigate demand at those popular destinations.

With no capability to facilitate night operations, ASE, EGE and RIL only have approximately 10 hours of daylight or less during winter. In best-case scenarios, each airport can handle about 18 flight operations per hour on a good weather day. Demand was so great that FAA instituted E-STMP to meter the traffic to those fields.

E-STMP is a web-based reservation system. An operator reserves a slot at one of the three airports within three days of departure and must confirm it 24-hours in advance. But the program has often been problematic for business operators, according to Dean Snell, assistant manager of NBAA’s Air Traffic Services.

“Those Colorado destinations are so popular during the winter months that demand literally clogged the computer systems serving E-STMP and it became very frustrating trying to get a slot,” Snell explained.

After consultations with NBAA, FAA opted to use a ground-delay program to manage traffic at ASE, EGE and RIL during the 2013-14 winter season.

“This is something controllers and air crews are used to seeing,” Snell said. “It’s much more efficient, but there will still be delays because demand still outpaces capacity.”

The disadvantage, he continued, is that operators won’t know how long the delays are until the day of flight.

“Some operators who file late simply won’t make it in that day,” Snell said.

Planning Your Trip

NBAA’s Air Traffic Services has several recommendations for best practices when planning trips to ASE, EGE and RIL.

“The best advice is to file your flight plan as soon as you possibly can – at least the night before,” said NBAA Air Traffic Management Specialist John Kosak. “With the three airports opening at 7 a.m. Mountain Standard Time (9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time), chances are these ground delay programs might go into effect as early as 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. EST.”

By filing the night before, Kosak said, you stand a better chance of making your requested flight time.

Still, that leaves the problem of parking, Snell said.

“Ramp space at these airports is at a premium, and there is no official ramp reservation program at these three airports.” Snell suggested operators call ahead to the FBOs at ASE, EGE and RIL to make parking arrangements.

“At all three airports, Dec. 26 is a high volume day, as is the Sunday after New Year’s,” Snell said. “Those days, it’s likely we’ll see ground delays.”