Aspen Airways was founded in 1952 as a regional affiliate of United Express. Originally based in Aspen, Colorado, the airline eventually moved their headquarters to Stapleton International Airport. Aspen Airways was actually named after the aspen tree, not after the city in which it was initially based.
Aspen had a codeshare with United Airlines. Subsequently, some routes were operated as United Express.
In 1952, Walter Paepcke founded Aspen Airways. His intention was to create an airline to be used to transport personnel of the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies between Aspen and Denver. Their first aircraft were surplus DC-3s.
Within years of their formation, Aspen would begin to serve a different purpose. Aspen was purchased by J.W. Ringsby in 1963. A Convair 240 turboprop leased from Alaska Airlines was incorporated into their fleet, along with four Convair 340 and Convair 440 turboprops purchased from Delta Air Lines.
By the early 70s, the airline was also flying Convair 580 turboprops, some of their more powerful airplanes. In fact, the Convair 580 turboprops were some of Aspen’s favorites. Though they burned extreme amounts of fuel, they could climb to cruising altitude at an incredibly fast rate, making them terrific airplanes for clearing the mountains. Additionally, these aircraft could also operate on very quick turn around times, since they were very mechanically sound. At one point, an F-27 turboprop had been a part of the fleet, but was removed due to general inefficiency. There were also many other variants of turboprops in Aspen’s fleet, including some from deHavilland. Over the years, many of these airplanes would be retired.
Some of their most famous aircraft included brand new BAe 146-100 airplanes. The smallest jets produced by British Aerospatiale, they had short landing and take off requirements and quiet engines, making them comfortable jets. These aircraft were retired in 1985, and they were the only jetliners Aspen ever had in their fleet.
Though Rocky Mountain Airways was a major competitor, Aspen became the airline of choice for those seeking travel between Aspen, Colorado and Denver. The 40 minute trip costed passengers $32, with no advanced booking necessary. The Aspen to Denver routes were the most popular of the airline’s routes. However, over the course of their history, Aspen did serve a variety of other destinations alongside their famed Aspen to Denver routes. They included cities such as Amarillo, Bakersfield, Durango, Grand Junction, Sioux City, Los Angeles, Cheyenne, Waterloo, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Gillette, Gunnison, Lake Tahoe, and many other destinations, some operated as United Express.
In 1989, Aspen Airways put itself up for sale. Aspen employees made a desperate attempt to acquire the airline, but failed. Multiple companies made offers to purchase Aspen, but also failed. Finally, in the same year the airline had put itself up for sale, all aspects were purchased. Mesa Airlines acquired all of Aspen’s stations, ground equipment, and all routes except for the famous Denver to Aspen route. Air Wisconsin acquired the Denver to Aspen routes, the common stock, and the BAe 146 and Convair 580 airplanes, the only airplanes Aspen had been flying at the time of their purchase. Both Mesa Airlines and Air Wisconsin had code sharing partnerships with United at the time of purchasing Aspen, but the two airlines lost the partnership within a few years of the purchase. Currently, there are some United Express flights in Colorado operating on the Aspen to Denver route, somewhat memorializing of the defunct airlines’ legacy. In 2006, the last of the BAe 146’s first belonging to Aspen Airways took their final flights before being retired.