As some of our community's most accomplished leaders work to reinvigorate the Colorado Springs Airport, a major airline has shown faith by coming into the city with daily nonstop flights between the Springs and its hub at Seattle-Tacoma International.
Alaska Airlines, the country's seventh-largest carrier, is expected to boost annual traffic in Colorado Springs by 20,000 passengers a year who will contribute about $500,000 to annual airport revenues. It's a tremendous step in the right direction.
Despite our community's large and growing population of more than 600,000 people - and the area's disproportionately high number of tourist attractions - the Springs airport has struggled for most of the past decade. It's a modern, comfortable and convenient airport with almost perfect demographics to succeed. The only real obstacle is the community's close proximity to Denver International Airport, the fifth-busiest airport in the country and 10th-busiest in the world.
Because distance isn't much of a factor, travelers to and from Colorado Springs have the luxury of using whichever airport offers the most convenient flights at the lowest prices. Because of its volume, DIA has enjoyed a big advantage.
Alaska Airlines has chosen to invest in Colorado Springs because of where the airport is headed, not where it has been. Before deciding to commit, airline and airport executives met to discuss projects and restructuring initiatives both parties believe will give the airport an edge in attracting southern Colorado travelers who are otherwise inclined to drive to DIA. In a statement to The Gazette, Alaska executives expressed their enthusiasm for the market because it "offers a wealth of business and recreational opportunities and thus is a solid market for air travel."
Indeed, this is a great destination for visitors and home to a high percentage of military and private-sector professionals who frequently travel by air. The only thing Colorado Springs Airport needs to do is snag a decent chunk of it's market from defaulting to DIA.
The Airport Air Service Task Force, chaired by El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl, has plans to lower overhead to airlines so the airlines can offer lower ticket prices. The committee recommends doing so by cutting the airport's overhead and passing along savings in the form of lower rents and landing fees.
Another proposal involves creating amenities - a first-class lounge, concierge parking and express security - to attract more premium-ticket travelers. First-class and business-class passengers help airlines offer lower coach fares to recreational and budget-minded travelers.
In addition to positioning the airport to lower costs for airlines, city officials have boosted the airport's marketing budget by $300,000 a year - 10 times what they had been spending. If we want airlines to bet on Colorado Springs, city officials need to deliver traffic.
It's all good news, even for those who don't fly. Colorado Springs has boomed in population, growing by hundreds of thousands of residents in just the past two decades. The community is poised as a prime destination for enviable new high-wage employers and other private investments that could make this place the envy of other large cities throughout North America.
A key element for the success of Colorado Springs will be the airport. We need routine, affordable flights that will make DIA seem like a cost-prohibitive, time-wasting drive up I-25. With the addition of Alaska Airlines, it appears airport officials and the mayor's airport committee are on the right path.
Alaska Airlines, welcome to Colorado Springs. Together, let's make this a decision that benefits all.