CRJ700s to replace BAe 146s at Aspen

Air Wisconsin BAe 146 N607AW

Air Wisconsin BAe 146 N607AW at Aspen in January; the surrounding terrain that makes the airport so challenging can be clearly seen (Stefano Pagiola)

United Airlines is planning to use Bombardier CRJ700s operated by SkyWest for services to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. To date, the BAe 146 and Avro RJ are the only jet airliners certified for operation at the airport, which is at 7,820 feet AGL and is surrounded by mountains rising to over 13,000 feet. Aspen has a single, 7,000 foot runway, with landings in one direction and take-offs in the other. The critical limitation at ASE is the requirement to be able to undertake a missed approach with one engine out. Hitherto, only the BAe 146 and Avro RJ had been able to demonstrate this ability, as the loss of an engine would only entail a 25% loss of thrust. With Air Wisconsin (operating as United Express) due to retire its BAe 146s and Mesaba (operating as Northwest Jet Airlink) its Avro RJs, the future of jet airline operations at the airport had been in doubt. The latest versions of the CRJ700, which now use the more powerful CF34-8C5B1 (a version of the CF34-8C5 engine used on the larger CRJ900), may be able to demonstrate the ability to operate in Aspen’s demanding environment with the required safety margins. The introduction of slats on the CRJ700 (which the CRJ200 lacked) also helps, by reducing the model’s landing speed. SkyWest plans to begin operating CRJ700s on United Express services into Aspen on 16 April, when Air Wisconsin is scheduled to end its 146 operations. SkyWest has already taken over ground handling at the airport. Even if it should be certified, whether the smaller CRJ700 will prove a satisfactory replacement for the 146/RJ remains to be seen. Even with the more powerful engines, it might well be weight-limited on hot days. Moreover, its luggage capacity is smaller than that of the 146/RJ, which may prove a significant constraint on a route heavily patronized by skiers.

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