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Expect a Busy Winter Season in Ski Country

Operators planning to fly to the Rocky Mountains during the 2021-2022 ski season should anticipate high volumes of air traffic throughout the winter and should prepare for flight restrictions to business aircraft operations.

“We should prepare for Ski Country airports to be as busy between this December and March as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dean Snell, NBAA’s manager of air traffic services. “We expect demand and capacity issues, especially on weekends and over the holidays, and business aircraft operators should prepare now for regular ground delay programs, ground stops and structured routing in and out of Ski Country this winter.”

The Christmas holiday is the busiest travel period of the season for the region’s most popular airports, notably Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE) in Vail and Garfield County Regional Airport (RIL) in Rifle. In addition, a significant increase in traffic at Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) has required the use of ground stops and ground delay programs.

As Christmas falls on a Saturday this year, Snell also advises operators to expect a significant impact on operations Dec. 26-27 due to the large volume of incoming flights, as well as on Jan. 1-2 – and possibly Jan. 3 – as visitors return home.

“We should prepare for Ski Country airports to be as busy between this December and March as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

DEAN SNELL NBAA’s manager of air traffic services

Aircraft operators this ski season should be sensitive to excessive demands for ramp space at ASE, EGE and JAC, which have a “first come, first serve” policy. RIL can also have ramp constraints due to diversions from ASE and EGE, Snell noted. High demand for airport capacity in late morning and early afternoon can also result in regular ground stops, he added, noting that an expected increase in commercial air traffic this year could exacerbate conditions.

“It’s always a dynamic situation at single-runway airports like those in Ski Country. During the winter, weather can have a dramatic impact on operations, and we have also seen occasional instances of disabled aircraft on the runway closing the airport with no advance warning,” said Snell. “Operators should always have alternative plans ready.”

The FAA’s 2021-2022 winter season procedures will resemble those employed since the 2018-2019 season, said Snell. Three standard “playbook” route structures employed the previous three winters, including one specifically for ASE and EGE, will be retained. These required routes into Ski Country airports, used on days of significant demand, create the most efficient flows of traffic for the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center.

More details should be contained in a NOTAM issued shortly after Thanksgiving. Additional information can be found at www.fly.faa.gov.

Operators can employ some best practices to reduce the impact of air traffic initiatives, said Snell.

“File your flight plans early, be aware of known demand on the ATC system, have an alternative destination and let the FBO know you are coming prior to departure,” said Snell. “With these proactive measures – and knowledge of specific noise, night operation and capacity constraints at your destination airport – you will reduce the impact of traffic management initiatives on your visit to Ski Country.”

Review NBAA’s winter weather resources at nbaa.org/winter.

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