In a move that could help boost traffic at the struggling Colorado Springs Airport, Alaska Airlines will launch a daily nonstop flight in November to and from its Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hub, the carrier announced Thursday.
The new flight resumes nonstop service between the Springs and Seattle that ended Nov. 14, when Denver-based Frontier Airlines replaced its four-day-a-week flight between the two cities with a flight between Colorado Springs and Orlando, Fla.
SkyWest Airlines will operate the flight for Seattle-based Alaska with a 70-seat regional jet, but may expand with a Boeing 737 aircraft that carriers between 124 and 181 passengers, said Dan Gallagher, the interim director of the Colorado Springs Airport.
Alaska Airlines is launching the new service with an introductory one-way fare of $129 for tickets bought by July 4 for travel between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, subject to some restrictions.
"They believe there is a market for serving Colorado Springs with a 737, but they know they can achieve profitability with the (regional jet). There is a potential to add more cities to their service here if the community supports it," Gallagher said. "We consider this a first down, not a touchdown. It is the first step toward additional service. Now we have to deliver. I am confident the community will support the new service."
Frontier officials said earlier this year that passenger numbers on the Seattle flight and to two other cities the airline served from Colorado Springs dropped sharply in the fall, prompting the carrier to end all service to the Springs in April.
Mayor Steve Bach said during a briefing about the new flight Thursday that about 100 Colorado Springs area residents travel daily to Seattle through Denver International Airport. Those passengers, he said, will save money by taking the flight from Colorado Springs, since parking costs at the local airport are lower than DIA's, and most travelers will use less fuel getting to the Springs airport.
Alaska Airlines becomes the first new carrier to serve Colorado Springs since Frontier's departure, which triggered a 15.6 percent drop in passenger traffic at the airport during March when compared with a year earlier. That was the biggest monthly decline in more than four years. Without the new Alaska Airlines service, airport officials had forecast that passenger numbers this year would fall by 18.5 percent from 2012 to a 22-year low.
Gallagher said airport officials are negotiating with another carrier to resume service to a city previously served from the Springs by a different airline. He declined to identify the carrier or city, but said the airline's decision will depend largely on initiatives to cut the airport's annual operating expenses by $3 million, or about 14 percent. The cuts are designed to keep fees the airport charges airlines from jumping nearly 50 percent in the wake of Frontier's departure.
Gallagher blamed "a lack of awareness" of the Frontier flights to Seattle for the poor passenger numbers. He said the airport plans a major marketing campaign to highlight air service available to all 11 cities from the airport's five carriers, including a new initiative to reward travelers for using the airport with points or miles in airline frequent flier programs.
Springs officials have been courting Alaska Airlines for more than a decade. A previous CEO of Alaska Airlines affiliate Horizon Air had said in 2002 that Horizon was considering adding the Springs to its schedule that year. That expansion never happened, and the CEO retired in 2011.
Alaska Airlines is the nation's seventh-largest carrier, offering 805 daily flights to 95 cities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The 81-year-old carrier employs nearly 10,000 people and carried more than 25 million passengers last year.
The airline also announced Thursday it was launching service in November to Omaha, Neb., from Seattle, where it serves 70 other cities.
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