The winter season is almost upon us and many of the leading private jet companies are gearing up for the process. The winter months are the busiest of the year in the industry as well as being filled with a number of challenges.

This is the time of year that many people are arranging ski trips to some of the most popular ski destinations in the nation, including two of the top-ranked, Aspen, Colorado and Park City, Utah. These destinations are blanketed with beautiful powdery snow, perfect for skiing, but also making them susceptible to the wrath of frequent winter storms. In addition, most small mountain airports tend to have short runways which can add yet another wrench into the mix.

The slot program

Due to the high demand for flights in these areas, you are likely to encounter the slot program. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposes slot restrictions during the height of the season, from December to February in order to control congestion and account for winter conditions. The slot is a reservation for an arrival time, with a buffer of 15 minutes on either side of the reservation.

While the FAA releases slots exactly 72 hours in advance, each private jet company has their own rules as far as how they handle slot reservations. Flight Options, for example, applies for a slot of the requested arrival time 48 hours prior, and again if necessary, 24 hours in advance of the trip, according to marketing coordinator Mindy Wiswell.

Limited schedule

Another important factor to keep in mind is that the majority of private jet companies do not fly into the mountain airports at night in order to provide the crew and passengers with the highest level of safety. Currently, the only mountain airport in Colorado that offers electronic precision course guidance is at Rifle; therefore, some companies will fly into this airport at night, although you'll experience a longer drive to Aspen or Eagle upon arrival.

Planning ahead

What this means to you, the passenger, is that it's important to plan early to avoid disappointment, as well as to be somewhat flexible, especially during peak travel times – a few days before and after any major holiday.

With the weather in the mountains changing frequently, keep in mind that when the weather reports look bad for flying, airports may reduce the number of slots until the storm passes. If the slot is lost, or the company is unable to secure your requested arrival time, they will work with you to secure an alternative time, or airport, to meet your schedule.

The bottom line is to plan ahead and be flexible.

Important airport and date information

2012-2013 should be similar to last year as far as airport slots, although this information could change and should be verified before making plans. Based on last season's program dates the unofficial dates for this coming season are: 12/22/12 – 1/2/13 and 2/15/13-2/18/13.

  • Aspen, Colorado (ASE); Eagle, Colorado (EGE); and Rifle, Colorado (RIL) will require slots and should be no more restrictive than last year.
  • The Salt Lake City Center Airport (ZLC) does not plan on using slots this year – there will be no slots for Sun Valley Airport (SUN), Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) or Bozeman Yellowstone Airport (BZN). If there is excessive traffic during periods of high demand or poor weather, these airports will use delay programs.

The most important rules to remember in order to increase your chances of obtaining a slot:

  • Schedule your trip at least five days in advance
  • Specify alternative airports or ask your Owner Services Team for suggestions
  • Provide alternate arrival/departure times