Flight delays with new regulations

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As Yampa Valley Regional Airport prepares for the extra visitors and planes that ski season will bring, it also is dealing with delays and cancellations caused not only by fog and winter weather, but also tightened regulations recently imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Sherry Murphy, supervisor for Mesa Airlines/United Express, said about five flights were canceled, and about six were delayed last week. Some of the problems were caused by weather, but others were because of the new regulations.

The situation was better at the beginning of the holiday weekend, with only one 7-minute delay reported as of Friday afternoon.

"The new limits have caused a problem, they definitely have," Murphy said.

Those new regulations apply to all airports and affect pilots making instrument approaches. Under the new rules, an aircraft has to break out of cloud cover at a higher altitude and have greater ground visibility.

"It's kind of tied the hands of our pilots to be able to even attempt to get down," Murphy said.

Sometimes pilots can circle over the airport a few times and wait for the weather to clear before landing, she said. Otherwise, they have to fly into Grand Junction or Denver.

"If they can get down, they're definitely going to get down," Murphy said. "Unfortunately, when we have a snowstorm, it's questionable."

The change in regulations does not mean the airport previously was unsafe, Airport Manager Jim Parker has said.

However, the regulations do create a challenge for the airport and the Steamboat Ski Area, as ski season has started, and jet flights kick off in a few weeks.

Airport, county and other officials are working to relax the standards within the next two months.

Even without tightened standards, there is always the possibility that bad weather will halt flights.

"(With some of the flights canceled last week), it wouldn't have mattered what our limits were at that point," Murphy said. "Nothing could've gotten in on that day."

Murphy also encouraged passengers to arrive 1 hour and 45 minutes before their flights are scheduled to leave. Because the airport gets extremely busy this time of year, there are often long waits to get through security, and arriving 30 minutes before a flight is not sufficient.

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