Updated: October 3, 2011 at 12:00 am
The Colorado Springs Airport is forecasting in its budget for next year that passenger traffic will increase in 2012 for the first time in five years — a result of carriers starting to use larger and more fuel-efficient regional jets on many of the routes to and from the Springs.
The airport also predicted last year at this time that traffic would rise this year, but it didn’t happen as climbing fuel prices forced airlines to continue to trim flights from their schedules. Higher fuel prices are expected to benefit the airport somewhat next year as airlines replace 50-seat regional jets with 70- and 90-seat jets that are less costly to operate because they use less fuel on a per-passenger basis, said Gisela Shanahan, the airport’s assistant director for finance and administration.
Traffic declined 15.5 percent between 2007 and 2010 to 873,419, mostly as a result of airlines reducing flights or leaving the Springs entirely amid a lingering recession and higher fuel prices. Passenger numbers through August are down 3.7 percent from a year earlier and have dropped from the same month a year earlier for 20 of the past 21 months.
The airport’s 2012 budget forecasts that passenger numbers will increase 1.4 percent from the level where the airport expects to end this year.
“We are excited that the schedules for local flights going forward are stable since most of the major airlines have announced significant schedule reductions for 2012. We are always looking for opportunities to bring new or expanded service to Colorado Springs,” Shanahan said.
Airport officials are taking a major step to keep the Springs attractive to airlines by cutting the fees it charges them by 1.7 percent to $8.45 per passenger, which is 14 percent below the national average and 40 percent less than fees levied by Denver International Airport. As a result, airport revenue is expected to fall 0.9 percent from this year’s budget to $21.5 million even as spending increases 1 percent to $21.2 million, mostly as a result of increased utility costs stemming from double-digit electric and water rate hikes.
The combined impact of reduced revenue and rising spending will cut the airport’s surplus by nearly two-thirds to $256,389. The surplus is split between the airport and the airlines that lease space there. The airport operates as a city enterprise, receiving no city tax support, though it does receive federal grants to pay for major construction work on runways and taxiways, as well as the new baggage-screening system scheduled for installation early next year.