August 25, 2013 Updated: August 25, 2013 at 12:04 pm
When the mayor appointed a committee of our community's top achievers and thinkers to fix the Colorado Springs Airport, we expected good results fast. It appears the group will not disappoint.
The "task force" was given the mission of recommending options for improving airline service to Colorado Springs. Just more than a month after their appointments, members have crafted initial recommendations they will present to the City Council on Monday.
"We're going to do this fast, and by that I mean we should be done by the end of the year," said Bill Hybl, chairman of the five-member group and CEO of the El Pomar Foundation.
Better transportation options are essential to making Colorado Springs an even better city that can attract some of the country's most desirable employers.
The initial recommendations, shared with The Gazette and others throughout the community Thursday, reveal a goal of lowering costs for airlines that want to do business here. Lower airport costs will give airlines more room to compete for passengers with lower fares. It's a no-brainer, really, but the kind of approach that's often overlooked when government-run agencies conduct business as usual.
The initial recommendations include renovation of the airport's mothballed east passenger concourse that was used in the 1990s as a hub for the short-lived Western Pacific Airlines. The committee recommends investing $500,000 in renovations that will turn the concourse into an income property to help pay bills. The lease payments will help the airport offer lower prices to airlines, which can use the lower overhead to compete for customers with lower fares. Everyone wins.
Among prospective renters is the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. The agency, which screens passengers and bags, plans to lease about a third of the concourse for at least 10 years. That lease alone should pay off renovation costs in about three years.
Another recommendation backs airport management's plan to build a business center and lounge for business travelers and frequent fliers near Gate 6 in the terminal's main passenger concourse. The lounge, like others at the country's finest airports, will help airlines attract more frequent fliers and business-class travelers by offering valet parking and access to express security screening for those willing to pay. Airlines do better when they have a healthy mix of business travelers. More customers with higher-priced tickets enable airlines to compete for other customers with lower-cost coach fares.
"We are trying to do this in a way that makes the airport include and serve everyone," Hybl said. "We hope a broader base of customers will lead to more airlines and more flights."
In another effort to lower prices, the committee recommends refinancing the airport's $39 million debt so interest savings can be passed along in the form of lower fees to airlines. Better rates on debt could lower annual payments of $5.2 million by up to a third.
Our community has a modern and convenient airport that travelers love to use when they can find flights that suit them at affordable prices. The problem has been too few airlines and too few flights with fares low enough to mitigate the temptation of using DIA - the country's fifth busiest airport.
Colorado Springs Airport can compete, but only with lower prices for airlines and passengers alike. The committee's original recommendations, if accepted by City Council, will lead to dramatic steps in the right direction.