Updated: November 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm
The Colorado Springs Airport has seen better days - passenger numbers are down sharply and fares are surging, but efforts are underway by the airport, a team of consultants and a special task force to come up with ways to attract more flights to more cities at lower fares.
But don't expect low-fare giant Southwest Airlines to be the immediate answer to better and cheaper local air service, said Dan Gallagher, the airport's interim director and one of five panelists who discussed ways to improve service in Colorado Springs as part of a Gazette-sponsored Community Conversations forum Tuesday.
About 100 people attended the event, co-sponsored by Food for Thought, a program of the nonprofit Colorado Springs Diversity Forum, at the airport's East Terminal Unit.
"We are looking for first downs. A flight on a regional jet to Seattle (which began Nov. 1 on Alaska Airlines) is a first down. We aren't going to get 10 flights a day on Southwest. It costs $6,000 an hour to operate the planes they use," Gallagher said. "We are looking at getting airlines to upgrade a route from a 50-seat regional jet to a 70-seat regional jet and then maybe a (Boeing) 737."
Colorado Springs must first find ways to attract the 1,000 passengers a day who drive from the Springs or Pueblo to Denver International Airport to catch flights, said Damon Hylton, president of The Quotient Group, a marketing consultant to the airport and another panelist.
"Colorado Springs needs to show community support (for existing air service) so that it is ready to capitalize on the next opportunity, which could be with the new owners of Frontier Airlines," said Hylton.
Indigo Group, a former major investor in low-fare carrier Spirit Airlines, has agreed to buy Frontier. The Denver-based carrier halted local service in April after a 10-month experiment to turn the Springs into a "focus city" failed to attract enough passengers to generate a profit.
Steve Bartolin, president of The Broadmoor hotel and a member of the Airport Air Service Task Force, said the resort will soon begin promoting flights from the local airport in its print and online advertising, as well as on social media posts.
There was no shortage of ideas from leisure and business travelers attending the two-hour event on how to improve the airport and air service.
Dave Lord, a local business executive, said the airport should make sure that "the passenger's entire experience from the parking lot to the gate is exceptional. That starts with convenience and ease, but also includes how people are greeted and personalized service."
Several audience members, and panelist Kathy Boe, founder and CEO of local engineering and information technology contractor Boecore Inc., said the reliability of flights between Colorado Springs and Denver are a major issue for business travelers because the flights often are late or canceled.
Gallagher said the airport is in discussions with United Airlines about improving the reliability of those flights, which he said "has got to change."
Colorado Springs resident Kit Roupe said the airport, which has displays in the passenger terminal promoting U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters and the Air Force Academy, should include more information on local attractions.
Gallagher said the airport is looking at promoting Colorado Springs as an alternative gateway to the state's ski areas though U.S. Highway 24 and Colorado Highway 9 by emphasizing that the route has far less congestion than Interstate 70 west through the Eisenhower Tunnel.
The Community Conversation was part of an ongoing effort to examine topics of interest to the Pikes Peak region.
The panel discussion was followed by small-group discussions with about 30 participants hosted by Food for Thought. Comments and suggestions from those discussions will be included in future airport coverage.
Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234
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