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Bach creates task force to beef up service at Colorado Springs Airport

By: WAYNE HEILMAN wayneh@gazette.com
July 16, 2013 Updated: July 16, 2013 at 6:00 pm
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Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach is creating a new Airport Air Service Task Force, made up of some of the city's heaviest hitters, to persuade airlines to offer more flights at lower fares to more nonstop destinations from the beleaguered Colorado Springs Airport.

El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl, who will head the task force, said Tuesday at a media briefing hosted by Bach that he expects the group to begin meeting within the next 10 days and have recommendations ready for Bach and members of the Colorado Springs City Council by year's end.

Hybl said the group will look for ways to "be creative, innovative and think outside of what has happened before."

But he injected a dose of reality into the effort.

"Our conclusion could be that what is happening in terms of declining passenger numbers cannot be reversed."

The task force also will look at the financial structure of the airport, including the rent, fees and other charges it imposes on airlines serving the Springs, Hybl said.

Bach said he met with Hybl a month ago, and told him "the airport needs high-level leadership to make flights more affordable." He said Hybl later contacted him and agreed to head the task force.

"We ought to be able to justify direct flights to Huntsville, (Ala.), and Reagan National, and this is the caliber of leadership to get that done," Bach said after the briefing. "We will be getting their perspective and influence. It is a step forward to attract people of this caliber to this effort."

The goal of the task force is "more affordability and destinations for air travelers," Bach said in a news release Tuesday. "This task force will complement the Airport Advisory Commission, which focuses on land use impacting the airport."

Other members of the task force include Steve Bartolin, president and CEO of the Broadmoor hotel; Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee; Victor Renuart, who retired as an Air Force general in 2010 after heading the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command; and Pam Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Renuart, who has worked as a consultant since retiring, said attracting Alaska Airlines to start nonstop service in November to Seattle is "a good next step, but there are other airlines that serve other major locations that are appealing to the people of southern Colorado. Our role is to find ways to bring them to our area." He mentioned major airline hubs in the northwest, southeast and eastern U.S. as the top targets for new service.

Bartolin said last month that The Broadmoor recently studied launching a shuttle service to Denver International Airport because of declining air service in Colorado Springs, but decided against it as efforts to expand local air service picked up momentum. The Broadmoor is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.

The formation of the task force comes as passenger traffic at the airport is forecast to fall to a 22-year low this year, a result of Frontier Airlines' exit from the Springs in April. To reverse the decline, city officials will interview finalists for a marketing consultant this week. The consultant will develop a campaign to highlight flights available to the 11 cities served by the airport's five carriers.

The airport also is in the midst of a series of moves designed to attract additional carriers and flights by cutting fees charged to airlines and rewarding passengers for using the airport, which is operating under an interim director after the previous director, Mark Earle, resigned in March over a disagreement with Bach.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman

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