Feb. 24 -- Passengers at the Colorado Springs Airport could encounter problems getting a seat on the flights they want during the hot summer months while the main runway is under construction.
The construction, which will be completed Oct. 17, has diverted aircraft to the airport's shorter runways. Some aircraft using the shorter runways on hot days will have to fly lighter than they would on cooler days.
That's because the air is less dense on hot days. The less dense the air is, the harder it could be for some planes to get enough thrust to take off on a shorter airstrip.
To compensate for the shorter runways, air carriers will have to reduce the weight of their aircraft by boarding fewer passengers -- about 10 fewer on a 70-seat jet -- or loading less cargo or fuel.
They also could use planes with more powerful engines to ensure the planes will take off and climb efficiently when temperatures reach 87 degrees or higher, said John McGinley, aviation assistant director at the Springs airport.
"By limiting the weight, pilots can ensure that aircraft performance stays within acceptable parameters," McGinley said. "I don't want anyone to have an impression that this is creating a safety issue.
"The airlines are taking off the weight to have the same safety buffer that you would have on a normal day."
The airport's main runway, which is 13,000 feet long, has to be replaced because a common de-icer used on the runway reacts with the cement and causes it to deteriorate. The problem in Colorado Springs is causing a nationwide study of the reaction. The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned that chunks of concrete could get pulled into jet engines during takeoff.
During the construction, aircraft must land and take off on the airport's west runway, which is 11,021 feet long, and another one that is 8,268 feet long.
From May 1 to Sept. 30 last year, there were 47 days in which temperatures at the airport were 87 degrees or higher, according to statistics from the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
To give airlines time to make changes in the kind of aircraft they fly in the Springs this summer, airport officials notified them a year ago of the potential for weight restrictions, McGinley said.
American Airlines does not anticipate any problems with flights out of Colorado Springs.
"We believe that the takeoff specs and lift capacity of our aircraft will be able to handle normal payloads in summer months in Colorado Springs, even on a shorter runway," said Tim Smith, American spokesman.
Mesa Airlines, a regional carrier, will board about 10 fewer passengers on a 70-seat plane or less cargo on its larger flights out of the Springs when temperatures get near 90 degrees, but flights on smaller aircraft will not be affected, said spokesman Joe Bock, a Mesa spokesperson.
SkyWest Airlines, which operates about half of the flights in and out of Colorado Springs as United Express and Delta Connection, has replaced its Colorado Springs fleet with more powerful CRJ-700 regional jets, anticipating the density altitude problem and shorter runways, said Morgan Durrant, SkyWest spokesman.
"We have enough spares available and routes where other jets can be used so we can shift aircraft around and not lose capacity from other markets," Durrant said. "The cost really is negligible because we are planning so far in advance."
United Airlines already has begun to sell fewer seats on some SkyWest-operated flights out of Colorado Springs in the warmer months to avoid boarding problems with passengers because of weight restrictions, Durrant said.
Although the airlines flying out of Colorado Springs may have to sell fewer seats during the summer months, it will not increase ticket prices for local travelers.
"Ticket prices are a function of competition, pure and simple," Smith said. "If we had to do raise our prices because of fewer ticket sales out of Colorado Springs and our competitor did not have to do that, and you were looking up fares, you would go with our competitor."
The airport generates a large amount of its operating revenue from landing fees, which are dependent on the weight of aircraft.
Airport officials say the weight restrictions on aircraft will not have a significant effect on airport revenues, McGinley said.
"Our fees are generated from landing fees, and they are fixed fees based on the weight of the aircraft. If the airplane has two passengers or 70, it makes no difference," McGinley said.
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