The Frontier Airlines experiment is paying off in a big way.
Passenger numbers at the Colorado Springs Airport surged in October to an eight-year high, and the total for the first 10 months of the year already exceeds the annual totals for the past four years.
Frontier generated more than 80 percent of the October increase and nearly 90 percent of the year-to-date gains.
The Denver-based, low-fare carrier returned to Colorado Springs in April 2016 after a three-year absence with a single nonstop flight to Las Vegas and has since expanded its local schedule to eight nonstop destinations with plans to add three more in April. American Airlines responded this summer by adding flights to Chicago to its Colorado Springs schedule, triggering a similar boost in passenger traffic for the Dallas-based carrier.
Frontier could add up to 10 more destinations over the next few years if passengers support the flights it now offers, an airline executive said in September. That hasn't been a problem - Frontier sold nearly 87 percent of the seats on its Colorado Springs flights in October and nearly 85 percent in the first 10 months of the year, even as the airline has expanded capacity during that period by fourfold from the same period a year ago.
"So far, so good," Mayor John Suthers said Friday. "The load factors (percentage of seats sold) are a pretty good indicator that we are supporting these flights. Hopefully, we will hear more good news sometime in the coming year in terms of additional flights."
The 86,298 passengers who boarded outgoing flights in October marked the highest monthly total since August 2009, up 48.4 percent from October 2016. The percentage increase is the largest since at least 2000 and likely the most since Western Pacific Airlines operated a hub in the Springs 20 years ago, said Greg Phillips, the city's aviation director. Passenger numbers through October totaled 693,649, up 31.9 percent from a year ago and already higher than the full year totals for 2013-16 with two months of strong holiday travel numbers yet to come.
The airport forecasts that 850,000 passengers will board outgoing flights this year, which would be the highest annual total since 2010, and Suthers said he expects traffic will total more than 1 million passengers next year, a level the airport hasn't reached since 2007.
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