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A promising business model takes flight at Springs airport

By: The Gazette editorial
October 13, 2013 Updated: October 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm
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The days of the Colorado Springs Airport's diminishing flights and downward trending performance are almost over. Airport administrators have plans that could make the enterprise a new model for other regional airports throughout the country, and with the help of a super committee of advisers, known as the Airport Air Service Task Force, the prospects for success are improving. We may be on the brink of creating the easiest, most affordable place for airlines to do business if city officials decide to choose success.

In a meeting with The Gazette's editorial board, interim airport director Dan Gallagher spelled out plans for the immediate future that are smart, market-driven, entrepreneurial and outcome oriented.

Running an airport involves no magic. It's a simple matter of providing airlines with a low cost place to load and unload passengers, in a location that can serve particular routes more efficiently than they could elsewhere. To do this, Gallagher plans to spend considerably more on strategic, targeted marketing initiatives and less on needless amenities. Moreover, he has figured out we can reduce costs to airlines and still pay for this by simply refinancing high-rate bonds. Sounds easy, but it takes all the business experience Gallagher and his helpers can muster, as well as a supportive city to pull it off.

Past problems with the airport were caused by a bureaucratic, non-business management approach that didn't treat airlines as partners. Given the option of lower costs at more efficient airports, airlines have routinely pulled flights from Colorado Springs.

Along with high-interest debt, the airport wasted money on hardwood cherry handrails (with inlaid brushed nickel), custom-made carpeting, $180-a-gallon interior paint and lavish art exhibits. The opulent expenditures did nothing to attract passengers and only created expense for airlines that were looking for the most efficient, affordable, low-overhead airports from which to offer flights.

Today, airport management looks at airlines and the routes they provide from airports all over the country. Then they ask themselves how to make routes of similar distances more affordable from Colorado Springs.

To keep overhead low, airport executives want to sell more food, drink and other goods and services to passengers and those who pick them up and drop them off. They want more business-class and first-class passengers, who help maintain low coach fares for families and casual travelers looking for bargains. They want to restructure debt.

Airport officials also want to bring back airline service businesses that left after city government began collecting sales taxes from them several years ago. Gallagher said the tax costs more than it generates because it chases airport-based businesses to competitors, such as Meadow Lake Airport near Falcon and Centennial Airport at the Denver Tech Center.

One hurdle to attracting travelers to the Colorado Springs Airport is Denver International Airport. It's among the world's busiest airports and travelers to and from southern Colorado have long been willing to make the drive. But this turnaround is not only dependent on what happens at DIA. It is also a function of beating out other cities like Colorado Springs, which provide route service to key cities. This insight gives us even further hope that this plan can succeed.

Colorado Springs needs a flourishing airport with frequent, affordable flights to major cities throughout North America. It is an essential ingredient of reinvigorating the local economy for the sake of diversified, high-paying employment.

Planets have aligned in favor of swift and growing success at the airport. Now, the City Council holds the key. Council members have a unique opportunity to put recommendations of new airport management and the Airport Air Service Task Force into play quickly, which will make their enterprise the talk of the airline industry.

The Gazette's editorial board has thoroughly examined the most recent business model recommended for the airport and considers it a sound plan for success. It's one that focuses not just on DIA, but all the market dynamics involved. Therein lies a business plan that can succeed. Now, let's put it into action and help this city take off. Doing so will establish a favorable legacy and benefit all segments of the community.

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