Shedding light on Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Sardy Field’s Falcon 2000 runway excursion

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After latest incident, FAA ponders new safety measures at Aspen Airport

Falcon 2000 cockpit crew miss runway

ASE located in midst of Mountains

Notes warn of difficult approach





The Aspen Daily News reporter did an excellent job using FOIA to learn more about a January 7, 2018 incident at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Sardy Field (ASE). The pilot of the Falcon 2000 was reported to have been disoriented. As the notes for Sardy Field (below) make abundantly clear and the topographic map, the approach is not normal –high rate of descent may be required. Included is a precaution for VFR pilots and good advice for IFR pilots to have performed a landing or take-off at the airport in the last 12 months.











The cockpit crew at 10:15 a.m. in clear weather with calm winds that allowed for 10 miles of visibility, had trouble lining their Falcon 2000 on the runway and that contributed to the plane’s departure from the runway.







The FAA investigator stated that the “inability to identify the landing runway has contributed to” the accidents during that span….I highly encourage us exploring the installation of runway centerline lighting and touchdown zone lighting to help prevent this in the future…[ Aspen Airport is] “unique in that pilots must commit to land 2.6 miles from the field, and inside of that [they] lose the ability to safely go-around because of high terrain…They are forced to land moving at 150-200 mph with limited time to acquire the landing runway…They have to make a split-second decision about where the runway is and aim for it. I know we had success with getting centerline lighting installed at Jackson [Wyo.] with runway safety support.”

The runway might benefit from a landing light system, but the accident occurred when visibility was good. The ASE Director John Kinney, a pilot and an award-winning airport veteran for over 30

years, provided more insight:

The pilot was apparently looking for a snow-covered surface, based on a so-called notice to airmen — despite Sardy Field personnel alerting pilots minutes before the landing that snow-removal operations on the runway had just concluded and that the surface was clear, but wet.

The pilot later told the incident commander from the airport that he was looking for a runway that was snowpacked, Kinney said in January, adding that the pilot may have missed the last alert about the cleared runway before landing.





The County is considering a lot of improvements to ASE, “shifting the airport’s lone runway 80 feet to the west, widening it to 150 feet and strengthening it to allow up to 150,000 pounds of landing weight.” Runway lights may be part of that package and installing them when major work is being performed on that surface. It would seem to be a bit of a stretch to say that THIS ACCIDENT is THE reason for the January 7 plane departure from the runway. If the pilots failed to see a cleared runway and chose instead to use a “snow-packed” area adjacent, the problem is not with runway markings.

Another important point is included at the end of the article, the reporter mentions the redacting of sections of the FAA documents under FOIA. Most readers neither know much about the arcane world of aviation safety   nor are likely to accept that removing of pilot disclosures is a good thing. The Global Aviation Safety Community has learned that collecting greater information voluntarily from pilots  is more likely to reduce risk than punishing inadvertent errors.










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