A new Colorado Springs Airport marketing strategy aimed at attracting more locals to fly in and out of the city began Monday with a cup of coffee.
Mayor Steve Bach offered free coffee, pastries and newspapers to flyers arriving at the airport between 4:30 and 6 a.m. to board the day's first flights.
"We want to thank people for using the Colorado Springs regional airport and build awareness of this wonderful asset here in the Southern Colorado community and encourage people to fly out of Colorado Springs," Bach said.
For the past decade, the number of people flying out of Colorado Springs has dropped each year. In 2002, more than 1 million passengers boarded airplanes leaving the Springs. Airport officials have projected that about 690,200 people will board planes out of Colorado Springs this year - a 20-year low. On hearing those numbers, Bach set out to hire an airport marketing consultant, who is expected to be named by the end of May. He parted ways with the former aviation director and formed a task force to talk marketing strategies, one he describes as twofold:
"The first is attract more flights - ideally, more airlines with more flights in and out of the airport," Bach said. "We are talking with existing carriers as well as others about that."
Bach hopes to have an announcement related to additional airlines or service within the next month, he said. The second part of the strategy is people, he said.
"We need more people to use the airport and that will then result in more flights," he said.
Dan Gallagher, interim aviation director, is hyping the pros of flying out of the Springs. The cost to fly out of Colorado Springs, on average, is $26 more than flying out of Denver, he said. It does, though, depend on where a person is flying. A trip to Phoenix, booked six months out, will cost $149 less out of DIA. A flight to San Antonio is $17 less out of DIA. However, when a flyer takes into account drive time to Denver and parking fees, they might consider the higher price at Colorado Springs worth it, Gallagher said. Long-term parking at Colorado Springs Airport, for example, is $6 per day compared with DIA's $23 a day.
"We have a lot more opportunities than challenges," Gallagher said. "But it's a simple strategy; lower costs and identify the market we lost and market the heck out of it."
One strategy to attract airlines is to lower the airport landing fees, he said.
Gallagher said the airport is looking into refinancing its $39 million in remaining bond debt. If the city can pull that off, it could result in decreasing landing fees, he said. Landing fees, per 1,000 pounds, have gone from $2.41 in 2009 to $2.52 in 2011.
"This is a business," Gallagher said. "The airlines don't have constituents, they have customers. It's all about the math."
But attracting new airlines or gaining more routes might be tough. In recent years, regional airports across the country have run well below capacity. For example, in 2010, Colorado Springs Airport had seven major and national airlines and seven regional and commuter airlines. In 2011, it had six majors and four regionals. Earlier this year, it lost Frontier Airlines.
It's a trend that might continue. Over the next 20 years, large airports are projected to grow at a faster rate than smaller regional airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Bach wants to hear from an airport marketing expert, who could develop a plan that gets more local flyers on the planes. Right now, an estimated 45 percent of Springs flyers drive to Denver International Airport; 53 percent of Pueblo flyers driver past Colorado Springs Airport to fly out of DIA.
"We need to, among other things, partner with ski resorts to encourage people to fly into Colorado Springs and travel to ski resorts through here and through the beautiful scenery," Bach said. "As I-70 is more congested, I think people will find it easier to fly into Colorado Springs and then go on to the resorts."
Nobody expects Colorado Springs Airport to become a DIA, said Steve Sorensen, Delta general manager. But the regional airport can market its assets and go after the local market, something that had not been done in recent years, he said. Gallagher, for example, has attended manager meetings and taken an interest in the airline tenants, something he said has impressed him.
At the window where Bach stood to offer travelers coffee and pastries is a view of an empty concourse, which had been built in the 1990s for Western Pacific. The airline operated its hub in the Springs but left in 1997 and then filed for bankruptcy.
"You see we have the capacity," said Doug Price, Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO. "The flights Frontier was flying out of here - Seattle, Portland, L.A. - their loads were really good. One of the things we are trying to do is convince some of the airlines, look at the flight records and the loads."