A task force appointed by Mayor Steve Bach is launching another effort to land nonstop flights, this time from Colorado Springs to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or two New York-area airports.

The Colorado Springs Air Service Task Force, headed by El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl, has asked Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to help it win slots needed for the flights.

Bennet is working with the task force to find an airline willing to begin service to Reagan National, La Guardia or Newark Liberty International. If a carrier agrees to offer the service, Bennet will then help seek takeoff and landing slots needed for the flights, said one of his spokesmen, Adam Bozzi. Takeoffs and landings are limited at all three airports by federal regulators to reduce congestion.

Bennet's effort springs from a Dec. 18 letter he received from Hybl, Mayor Steve Bach and Gazette Publisher Dan Steever. In asking for Bennet's help, the letter notes that many passengers bypass the Colorado Springs Airport to catch nonstop flights from Denver International Airport to LaGuardia and Reagan National.

Both the military and nonprofit sectors of the local economy "need a regional airport that offers convenient, reliable and affordable access to the Eastern United States to effectively and efficiently conduct their business," the letter says.

The U.S. Department of Transportation turned down a request from Frontier Airlines in 2012 for slots at Reagan National for a nonstop flight to Colorado Springs that would have continued to San Diego. Frontier, which halted service to Colorado Springs in April, was seeking two of eight new slots at Reagan National made available under 2012 legislation. The slots went to four other airlines for flights to Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and San Francisco.

SkyWest Airlines, operating as United Express, operates a daily nonstop flight from the Springs to Washington Dulles International Airport, a United hub that is about 30 miles northwest of Reagan National. No airline offers nonstop flights from Colorado Springs to any New York-area airport.

Dan Gallagher, interim director of the Colorado Springs Airport, said airport officials support the effort but added that any flight to Reagan National would have to "make business sense" for an airline, even if Bennet is successful in persuading regulators to award a slot for a flight from the Springs.

The lobbying effort is just the latest of several initiatives underway to boost air service at the local airport, where passenger traffic last year declined 20.9 percent from 2012 to 650,000 - the lowest annual total in 22 years. The decline resulted from Frontier's departure.

In November, Alaska Airlines began a daily nonstop flight to Seattle. That flight attracted 1,306 passengers in its first month, filling 62.2 percent of the seats available during the period.

In bid to persuade other airlines to expand service in the Springs, airport officials have cut the airport's operating expenses 18 percent by paying off and refinancing debt, eliminating 26 open positions and cutting other spending to reduce rent and other fees airlines pay.

Airport officials also are:

- Working to hire a marketing and communications manager who would be paid an annual salary of $71,628 to $89,532. Gallagher said the airport restructured an open position for the post, which the city hopes to fill by April.

- Planning to launch an advertising campaign in March with a budget in the "tens of thousands of dollars," highlighting nonstop flights available from the Springs, Gallagher said. Local flights already are included in advertising from The Broadmoor hotel and the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.

- Working with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance to put together focus groups of corporate travel managers to find out more about what destinations, flight times and fares would "make travel from Colorado Springs easier" for their employees, Gallagher said.


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