An effort by the Colorado Springs Airport to reduce costs for airlines has its first payoff: the resumption of nonstop flights between Colorado Springs and Phoenix.
Allegiant Air officials announced Tuesday that the carrier will offer service twice a week to Arizona's largest city, starting May 15 - more than a year from when the Springs airport lost its flights to Phoenix.
Allegiant's flights to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, a 10-gate airport 30 miles southeast of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, will be on 166-seat Boeing MD-80 aircraft. Regular one-way fares start at $58, but Allegiant - an ultra low-cost carrier - is offering a $49 one-way introductory fare that must be purchased by March 11 for travel by Aug. 12.
The Phoenix-Mesa flight will take a seasonal break from Sept. 1 to Oct. 27, but Allegiant did not offer an explanation.
Allegiant operated twice-a-week flights between the Springs and Phoenix-Mesa from 2010 to 2012, but stopped the service after Frontier Airlines began daily nonstop flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor. Frontier exited the Colorado Springs market April 7.
Eric Fletcher, airports manager for Allegiant, said discussions with local airport officials began six months ago when Dan Gallagher, the airport's interim director, showed Allegiant officials financial restructuring plans to reduce the rent and fees that airlines pay - a tactic to encourage them to keep existing flights and add new service.
"Many airports say they will reduce costs, but few deliver on that promise. It caught peoples' eye at Allegiant and turned a lot of heads," Fletcher said at a press conference Tuesday announcing the new flight. "This community has a need for more service, and this airport can support this route and lots of others. We can offer low fares because of the low costs at this airport."
The restructuring includes cutting the airport's budget by eliminating 26 vacant positions and paying off and refinancing much of the airport's debt to lower annual payments by nearly three-fourths to $1.4 million. When the restructuring is complete, rent and fees that airlines pay will have been cut by 16.3 percent to $6.26 per passenger - below the national median and about half of what Denver International Airport charges its carriers.
Mayor Steve Bach called the new flight "the next step forward" for the beleaguered airport, which saw passenger numbers drop last year to a 22-year low after Frontier's departure.
Phoenix will be the second city added to the Colorado Springs route map since November, when Alaska Airlines started a daily nonstop flight to Seattle. In its first two months, the outbound flight attracted 2,908 passengers, or an average of 48 a day.
Colorado Springs Airport officials expect the Phoenix and Seattle flights to help stabilize a sharp decline in passenger numbers over the past five years. Last year's drop in boardings were the most dramatic, the result of Frontier's departure and reductions in local service by the nation's three largest carriers. Passenger numbers on outgoing flights from the Springs airport in 2013 declined 20.9 percent from 2012 to 650,529, the fourth annual drop in five years.
A task forced that Bach appointed last year has been working to reverse the trend and bring more service to the Springs airport.
Gallagher said the flight will attract passengers who had been driving to DIA to catch inexpensive nonstop flights to Phoenix. If Springs area residents support the new flight, he said Allegiant might expand the service to additional days.
"We need to support the service we just got as well as the flights we already have," Gallagher said.
Allegiant, the only airline serving the Phoenix-Mesa airport, flies from there to 36 other cities, and offers discounted rates at more than 70 hotels in the Phoenix area as part of travel packages. The carrier specializes in offering discount travel packages that also include hotel stays, rental cars and entertainment. The Colorado Springs flights are part of a larger expansion the carrier announced Tuesday.
Allegiant has operated nonstop flights between Colorado Springs and Las Vegas since 2002. Two flights a week operate year-around and two others operate just during the summer, though the carrier is adding the seasonal flights earlier this year, in mid-April, than it did last year. It boarded nearly 26,000 passengers last year on its local flights.
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