Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Fixing the airport is an 'emergency'

The Gazette editorial Updated: December 2, 2013 at 9:01 am

If the Colorado Springs Airport doesn't make a comeback soon, despite new management and tireless work by an all-star "task force," talk to the City Council members and remind them how important this is. For some reason, council questioned Monday whether a desire to stop wasting $8,000 a day - at a rate of $240,000 a month and $2.8 million a year - is an "emergency." It's money that could otherwise bring more flights, passengers and lower fares to Colorado Springs.

Airport administration asked Oct. 13 for an emergency ordinance that would help it reduce overhead and reverse the exodus of passengers and flights. The council declined the request and voted Tuesday for a more conventional outcome. They should have been in a race to fix the problem, rather than using this as another opportunity to debate process.

The request for emergency debt relief came after new management and a "task force," made up of some of Colorado's top business achievers, found wasteful airport overhead. Inefficiencies make the airport too expensive for airlines and passengers, which leads most travelers to opt for Denver International Airport. Without a flourishing airport, tourism suffers and the city has a hard time recruiting premium employers and high-wage executives.

Saving the airport from irreversible stall became an emergency the day Frontier Airlines pulled out in February. Lowering costs has become an emergency. Lowering costs means reducing debt and shopping for better rates - right now, while we know low interest can be found.

The airport sits on $16 million in reserves that earn 0.68 percent. It is, effectively, money under a mattress. Meanwhile, the airport pays on a pile of old debt that costs 5 percent. It doesn't take a mathematician to see the obvious move. Use reserves to pay off debt and save a whopping amount on unnecessary interest. Pass along savings with lower fees to airlines, which can then lower fares. Leave execution of the plan with those entrusted to manage the enterprise. It's simple stuff and should be made a priority for the swiftest action possible.

Given this obvious option for course correction, airport officials wanted an emergency ordinance in their quest to immediately pay down debt and refinance the balance at a substantial overnight savings.

Council members Joel Miller and Don Knight objected, explaining it just didn't feel like an emergency. Council members expressed a potential need to micromanage the plan, raising the prospect of additional testing and consulting that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They discussed the opportunity to belabor details, including who has final authority to approve a refinance transaction. If they do everything the old-fashioned government way, Colorado Springs cannot compete against airports that quickly adapt to changing conditions.

Any delay in refinancing will jeopardize efforts to keep existing flights. It will tell airlines that Colorado Springs cannot adapt fast.

The council should lollygag on airport finances like paramedics should break for tea as a patient spews blood. An $8,000-a-day leak should be seen as an emergency.

"I am one of those who think chasing a few basis points on a refinance they've been working on for several months does not constitute an 'emergency,'" wrote Councilman Andres Pico in an email to The Gazette. "An 'emergency' is a threat to life or property, but if houses are not being washed away or turned into cinders, 'emergency' is not right."

The debate as to whether this leak was a crisis originated during a meeting in which Miller demanded attorney advice about gaining more control over the budget. It was more time and energy spent on battles over process, rather than achievement of results.

This community cannot prosper if elected officials obsess over control, rather than constructive outcomes. This isn't a game.

The request for immediate relief of airport waste was common sense. Upon hearing about the $8,000-a-day leak, council should have dropped everything to fix it. The airport is in trouble and, yes, it's an emergency.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this editorial stated a daily amount wasted as a result of council refusing to pass an emergency ordinance. To date, council's action has not delayed plans to refinance airport debt and will not cost the airport money if the requested ordinance passes at the next regular meeting Dec. 10. The Gazette regrets the error.

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