Airport boarding numbers feel ripple effect from fire

WAYNE HEILMAN Updated: September 27, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: September 27, 2012

The Waldo Canyon fire never burned within 20 miles of the Colorado Springs Airport, but that didn’t keep the blaze from hurting passenger traffic during July.

Passenger numbers in the month that the devastating fire was contained rose just 1.2 percent from a year earlier to 82,022, airport officials reported Thursday to the city’s Airport Advisory Commission. Three of the airport’s four largest carriers — American, Delta and United — reported declines in July, but traffic on Frontier Airlines was up 63.8 percent from a year ago as a result of the Denver-based airline adding nonstop flights in May to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle.

The overall July increase was down from June’s year-over-year 5.2 percent increase.

“The increase is lower than we had projected, which we believe is due to the economic effects” of the fire, said Mark Earle, the city’s aviation director. Earle noted that hotel occupancy levels in July were down 13.3 percent from a year ago, the biggest year-over-year drop since September 2011.

“We believe the fire affected a lot of inbound travel, and while a lot of travelers drive to Colorado Springs, a significant amount arrive here by air,” Earle said. “While we don’t have traffic numbers for August, our concession and parking numbers” show traffic recovering.

Traffic for the first seven months of the year is off 1.4 percent from the same period a year ago to 471,177, but Earle said passenger numbers for the entire year should be up from a year ago as a result of the new Frontier nonstop flights, ending a five-year decline in annual passenger numbers.

Airport officials are forecasting a 2.4 percent increase in traffic next year, down from a 10 percent gain forecasted when Frontier began the nonstop flights. Earle said airport officials revised that forecast downward as a result of Allegiant Air suspending service recently between the Springs and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and Delta ending service last month between the Springs and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as part of broader cutbacks by Delta at its Minneapolis hub.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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