EDITORIAL: Another airline has confidence to invest in Colorado Springs

By: The Gazette editorial
March 5, 2014 Updated: March 5, 2014 at 8:45 am
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Rebuilding a failing business, turning it around before it's too late, can be an arduous task. Small victories must be valued, studied and built upon.

Take, for example, Tuesday's announcement of restoration of flights between Phoenix and the Colorado Springs Airport by Allegiant Air. The ultra low-cost carrier will offer flights on 166-seat Boeing MD-80s to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, a convenient, 10-gate facility about 30 miles southeast of Sky Harbor International.

Each time the Springs airport connects locals with another major city, it strengthens our economy. It makes our community more accommodating of new business ventures and more attractive to individuals and businesses looking for a new home. Success is seldom built on large, single achievements. It's typically incremental, which makes the return of Allegiant a significant indicator of the airport's new trajectory.

Largely because of poor decisions by past management, the number of outgoing passengers from Colorado Springs fell to 650,529 in 2013 - the lowest number in 22 years. The airport has to compete with Denver International, but DIA has been in business for most of those 22 years without the Springs airport falling this far behind.

To compete with DIA, the local airport has to offer airlines the opportunity to profit. That means the Springs airport must offer competitive rent and fees to airlines, which can pass those savings along to customers in the form of lower fares that will make the drive to DIA seem needless and burdensome.

And let's not forget that our local airport, in the early days of DIA, attracted significant traffic from Denver. The startup airline Western Pacific had made Colorado Springs it base, and it attracted customers from up north with highly competitive fares. Though the airline failed, it proved that travelers will drive from Denver when the price is right.

A task force composed of some of the community's more successful business leaders has been working on recommendations to make the airport more successful. It has recommended paying off and refinancing debt, so the airport can pass along lower overhead to airlines. Soon, after all debt restructuring is complete, rent and fees will go down by 16.3 percent for each passenger. That will place the costs of doing business in the Springs at about half the cost of fees and rent at DIA. The adjustments will place the airport below the national median.

Additionally, the task force recommended a luxury lounge to help airlines attract more business-class and first-class passengers. Though it sounds like an elitist plan - something to benefit only the rich - it's exactly the opposite. When airlines attract an abundance of premium-fare customers, they are able to attract more coach flyers by lowering standard fares. In essence, the airlines like it when high-priced tickets can subsidize low-price tickets.

The airport's high-profile plan to become more airline friendly shows early sings of working. The return of Allegiant comes on the heels of Alaska Airlines coming to the Springs in November with nonstop flights to Seattle. Word should spread through the industry that Colorado Springs is open for business.

All of Colorado will benefit when the state finally has two major options for nonstop flights to an assortment of cities. Competition among airports and airlines will create better service and lower fares for travelers in and out of the state. More planes in and out of Colorado's two largest cities will make the state an even more attractive destination for tourists, who import capital and help create jobs.

Our community's location at the base of Pikes Peak and its enviable climate are sustainable assets competing cities cannot create or buy. To leverage these gifts, and become a world class city, we must do as the airport is doing. We must become a place that facilitates success. We must be a place that allows and rewards accomplishment. We must choose to fly.

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