Forecast: Passenger traffic at Springs airport to fall to 22-year low

March 27, 2013
photo - Passengers exit a Frontier Airlines Bombardier Q-400 from Denver on Friday, April 20, 2012, at the Colorado Springs Airport. Frontier will soon be ending all local service. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE
Passengers exit a Frontier Airlines Bombardier Q-400 from Denver on Friday, April 20, 2012, at the Colorado Springs Airport. Frontier will soon be ending all local service. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE 

The departure of Frontier Airlines next month will cut passenger traffic at the Colorado Springs Airport by 16 percent to a 22-year low, according to a forecast released Wednesday by Springs Mayor Steve Bach.

The four remaining airlines serving the Springs are forecast to board 690,204 passengers this year on outbound flights, the lowest since 1991, under a forecast that assumes other airlines will attract about 20 percent of the nearly 155,000 passengers Frontier carried on flights last year. Traffic is forecast to decline again next year to about 650,000 passengers; this year’s estimates include passengers that Frontier will have carried during the 97 days on which it will operate flights to the Springs until it ends all local service April 7.

Denver-based Frontier had made Colorado Springs a “focus city” last year with nonstop flights to four western U.S. cities, becoming the airport’s third-largest carrier. Frontier pulled the plug on the experiment in January, saying it had to discount its fares too much to operate the flights profitably.

Frontier’s departure will leave the airport with nonstop service to 10 cities.

“We clearly need to rethink what we are doing” at the airport, Bach said Wednesday. “Half of all air travelers from southern Colorado bypass our airport to drive to Denver International Airport to catch flights. We need to look at successful airports proximate to large regional hubs, such as Tucson (Ariz.). We need to look at what they do to be successful. Part of that is I will be calling on our primary employers and business leadership to use our airport. If they do, that will result in more demand for air service and eventually more flights.”

Bach released the forecast less than a week after Mark Earle resigned as the airport’s director amid a disagreement with the mayor over how the airport should try to attract more passengers and airline service. Earle was replaced on an interim basis by Dan Gallagher, who had been the airport’s assistant aviation director for planning and development.

“Mark’s approach was to have a first-class facility that is ready when airlines want to add service,” Bach said. “We need to be a marketing partner with the airlines. I want to ask travelers using our airport to fill out a survey to learn more about who is using our airport and give them a reward for telling us more about themselves.”

Bach said Friday he is taking over meeting with airlines that the airport is targeting for new and expanded service; on Monday the city asked for proposals from marketing consultants to develop a new marketing strategy for the airport. Under that solicitation, the city is offering to pay $125,000 to $150,000 for the marketing plan. Bids are due by 3 p.m. April 25; 16 companies requested bid packets by 5 p.m. Wednesday, including some the city’s most prominent marketing firms. A contract is expected to be awarded by the end of May.

The airport also will continue to study the feasibility of using the nearly two years of cash it now has on hand to pay off some of its $39 million in remaining debt so it can reduce landing fees to convince new or existing carriers to expand service to the Springs, Bach said. The airport paid $5.24 million in principal and interest last year on the debt, or about one-fourth of its overall budget.

Passenger traffic last year rose slightly less than 1 percent from 2011 to 822,008, the first increase in five years. Passenger numbers have declined nearly 20 percent at the airport in the past 10 years. Traffic in January was up 4.5 percent from a year earlier to 57,617, almost entirely due to a 56.1 percent jump in Frontier’s passenger numbers.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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