So allow me to get personal.
I travel on occasion to Florida to visit family. I really prefer to fly in and out of TEX, rather than Montrose, because the extra hour and a half on each end is a hassle, making a long day of travel even longer. And more than a hassle, it’s a cost. I’ve often spent the night in Montrose the night before I’m booked out on an early flight out so that I don’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. to drive to Montrose and I’ve spent another night in Montrose after arriving back late at night rather than drive home when I’m tired at the end of a long day of travel. Two extra hotel bills are usually more than the additional cost of airfare out of Telluride, not to mention the cost of the extra time and gas. There’s also extra cost if I take a shuttle.
But here’s the problem with TEX. Because there aren’t any night flights in or out of TEX, which means there’s no early departure either, I can’t leave Telluride until around noon, which means I arrive on the East Coast after 11 p.m., which means I’m not in bed before midnight. Not fun. I sure would like to be able to leave TEX at 8 or 9 so I could arrive at my destination early enough to get a good night’s sleep and make the most of the next day.
Then there’s the return home. I have to get a flight at dawn in Florida, departing at 6 a.m., wake up at 4 a.m. or earlier, in order to catch a flight to TEX. This is 2 a.m. Telluride time. So I arrive home dead tired and lose another full day. If I could leave Florida at, say 10 a.m. or even noon and still reach Telluride the same day, what an improvement that would be!
You might say that I knew Telluride was inaccessible when I moved here, so I should suck it up. I might as easily say to those who live near the airport and oppose night flights that they chose to live near an airport and so they should suck it up. These retorts, it seems to me, cancel each other out and are irrelevant to our present moment. Times change and just as Telluride need not remain as inaccessible as it was twenty or thirty years ago, so might an airport add service over that same period. Just as Telluride will never be exactly easy to get to, so the airport - serving a small community - will never be so busy that it will truly be obnoxious.
In any case, I have sucked it up for years, accepting the fact that it’s not easy to get here. But the fact is, it doesn’t have to stay this way because there is a potential solution: night flights at TEX.
If we allowed night flights year-round there could be an early morning flight out of here, a night arrival back home, and suddenly it would no longer be so debilitating to get to and from the East Coast and Telluride.
Keeping it personal, just as the residents of Aldasoro and Last Dollar ask, “Please don’t disturb me with additional noise over my house between the hours of 6 and 8 in winter,” I ask them, “May I please disturb you by having the possibility of arriving home to TEX at 8 p.m.?”
And the question becomes, which of us is more inconvenienced? Which of us would be suffering the greater imposition?
If asked to choose between an inconvenience to me and to others in my situation and an inconvenience to people who live near the airport, how is a decision-maker to decide? A little extra noise to some locals means a shorter trip to and from Telluride for others, locals and visitors alike. How are these impacts and benefits to be measured against each other?
So the discussion turns to other, seemingly bigger questions. Maybe allowing night flights would be unsafe. Maybe allowing them would break a solemn promise made thirty years ago. Maybe longer airport hours would fail to bring more commercial service, and so it wouldn’t solve anybody’s problem and we’d get the adverse impacts of more general aviation traffic without the benefits.
In that spirit, I want to justify my selfish motive by referencing bigger benefits of allowing night flights. I imagine there are lots of others who feel the way I do. Some of them may be tourists with other options, like Aspen or Utah or even Switzerland. They would like to check out Telluride but would prefer not to devote an entire day of travel to getting here and another day to getting home. They look at the travel options and decide to do Telluride another year, when they have more time. If I am right in imagining that these folks are out there, and it wouldn't take many of them to fill a couple of flights, then night flights could truly bring a lot more money to Telluride. Strikes me as a major community benefit.
What if the airport board votes to allow night flights but can’t get an airline to schedule the service? Yes, that’s a risk, but one worth taking, I think, because we know for sure we can’t get the service without permitting it. Plus, thinking like an airline, if such a thing is possible, it makes sense an airline could assign a plane to a destination year-round, but would find it challenging to assign the equipment in summer, when there is less demand for air service to Telluride but more demand for it elsewhere, and then find another use for the plane in winter, when its precisely the reverse. Not to mention the other costs of changing schedules seasonally. Plus, if I were an airline executive, I might calculate that flights that depart early from Telluride and return late would probably be popular and have great load factors so I’d go for it. Those additional flights could make the whole business of serving TEX far more viable, possibly reducing fares.
Continuing to make my argument, there is a tendency to discuss the downside of allowing night flights at TEX as if there were no downside to limited commercial service here. This shouldn’t be a case of measuring the new risks and costs of allowing night flights against no risks in maintaining the status quo; it’s a case of weighing risks against risks and costs against costs. Sure, more flights to TEX means more risk of an accident, and possibly even more so after dark. But there is also risk associated with driving to and from Montrose airport after dark. Statistically, I would wager that the driving risk is greater than the flying risk, and not only to the traveler. The driving theoretically risks harming a local bystander, a local on the highway, as much as the flying risks harm to a local bystander. After all, a taxi could crash into your car on the highway just as readily as a plane could crash into your house on the mesa. Moreover, while night flights in winter may be marginally riskier than daylight flights in summer, so is driving at night over Dallas Divide in winter more dangerous than driving the same route during the day in summer.
The task before the Telluride Regional Airport Board of Directors is to weigh costs versus benefits. In the abstract, this sounds easy, but it’s not because the benefits and costs don’t fall on everybody equally or in the same way. Some of us don’t live near the airport or under a flight path. Some who do live there might find a few more flights overhead than what they already experience to be a significant increase. Others would hardly notice. Some locals don’t fly or don’t fly much and therefore don’t mind the commute to and from Montrose when they do. Some don’t care about whether or not there are more tourist dollars flowing in the economy. Some would benefit directly from those dollars.
I would like to think the trump card when the airport board begins its final deliberations is that the community-at-large would see far more benefit from allowing night flights than those who are impacted would suffer adverse impacts, that the benefits do clearly outweigh the costs. But many of those impacts and benefits not only hit different people differently, they are also are subjective, making it easy for me to favor night flights since I have subjective personal reasons for hoping I can book one of them soon. I would get two more nights of good sleep per trip out of the deal. To me, that's worth a lot!
As it happens in this particular debate, there is one solution that seems tantalizingly out of reach: allow commercial night flights only. Most of the opponents would be fine with that, they have said, but apparently the FAA wouldn’t allow it. It's either allow both commercial and private flights or neither. Is there no appeal? Has the airport board pursued that possibility to the end of the line?
If so, and if that sensible solution can't be had, when the dust settles and the decision over night flights is reached, some of us - maybe me, or maybe it will be some of my friends and neighbors - will be sorely disappointed.