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Airspace: How to Plan for Ski Country Winter Operations

Each winter, the snowy slopes of the Rocky Mountains attract millions of visitors, often stretching the capacity of airports across ski country. Again this winter, business aircraft pilots flying into the region should anticipate restricted and busy airspace.

“While we must plan for the possible impact of the novel coronavirus, the revival of business aviation services this summer was a clear sign that we also must be ready for any eventuality,” said Dean Snell, NBAA’s manager of air traffic services. “For those looking to Colorado as a winter destination, it is never too early to prepare for regular ground-delay programs, airspace flow programs and structured routings in and out of the region during peak periods of traffic.”

“For those looking to Colorado as a winter destination, it is never too early to prepare for regular ground-delay programs, airspace flow programs and structured routing in and out of the region during peak periods of traffic.”

Dean Snell Manager of Air Traffic Services, NBAA

For regular visitors to ski country from December through March, the procedures for the 2020-2021 winter season should resemble those for 2019-2020. The highest demand days for Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE) and Garfield County Regional Airport (RIL) are likely to be Dec. 26-27 and Jan. 2-4, and operators should expect ATC to implement departure clearance times on those five days.

Strong demand for ramp space, especially at ASE and EGE, and the high number of late morning and early afternoon arrivals throughout the winter, can also result in regular ground stops.

The FAA also has instituted required routes into ski country airports on days of significant demand to help the Denver ARTCC create the most efficient flows into the mountain airports.

It is important to note that this past spring these required routes extended beyond ASE, EGE and RIL to include Grand Junction (GJT), Gunnison-Crested Butte (GUG), Yampa Valley (HDN), Montrose (MTJ) and Telluride (TEX) regional airports.

“The capacity coming into and departing from these Rocky Mountain airports on the busiest days requires that the FAA implement traffic management initiatives to ensure the safe and efficient management of aircraft movements,” said Snell. “On top of this, operators should be aware that each airport has specific restrictions on noise and night operations, as well as capacity constraints on visual and instrument flight rules,” he added.

For more details, including links to daily Air Traffic Command Center advisories, operators should expect the FAA to release a NOTAM shortly after Thanksgiving, Snell noted.

There are some best practices that operators can follow to mitigate the impact of traffic management initiatives.

“You should consider arriving earlier in the day,” advised Snell, “and if you are looking at the busiest days, you might want to consider arriving the day before. File your flight plan as early as possible, keep to your departure time, make sure you report any cancellation, and always have an alternative destination as excessive delays or ground stops can go into effect at any time,” be added.

Snell also noted that while there are no slot or parking reservations requirements at the Rocky Mountain airports now, operators are urged to contact their destination FBO in advance so they can provide arrival and departure details.

Review NBAA’s airspace resources at nbaa.org/airspace.

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