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Gazette Premium Content Study: DIA draws Colorado Springs-area flyers because of fares, not nonstop service

photo - Nearly 2,000 passengers per day make the trip from Colorado Springs to Denver International Airport. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski) + caption
Nearly 2,000 passengers per day make the trip from Colorado Springs to Denver International Airport. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
By Wayne Heilman and Ned Hunter Updated: October 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm

It's all about available flights and lower fares, not nonstop service, that has southern Colorado residents driving north on Interstate 25 to catch a flight out of Denver.

Nearly half of the airline passengers traveling from the Colorado Springs and Pueblo areas - 47 percent - fly from Denver International Airport rather than the Colorado Springs Airport, mostly to get lower fares, according to a just-completed study by a Reston, Va.-based consultant for the local airport. Nearly 2,000 passengers per day make the trip from Colorado Springs to Denver.

But they get only minimally better access to nonstop service. Four of the five top destinations four southern Colorado passengers leaving from Denver are also served by nonstop service from the Springs, including Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta and Los Angeles, according to the study by Seabury APG.

The other top destination for southern Colorado passengers leaving form Denver is Phoenix, which had nonstop service from Colorado Springs until Frontier Airlines halted service there earlier this year.

The results of the study, survey and other research completed by Seabury were presented Friday to the Air Service Task Force. The five-member group, headed by El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl and including some of the city's top business leaders, hopes to persuade airlines to offer more flights at lower fares to more nonstop destinations.

Seabury's study examined travel patterns in the 12 months ended March 31 for all passengers living within 150 miles of the Springs, so it included information for the 10 months that Frontier operated nonstop flights to Los Angeles and Phoenix and seasonal service to four other cities.

Faced with a steep decline in passenger traffic that accelerated with Frontier's departure in April, the city hired Seabury as the airport's marketing consultant last month under a two-year contract. The first task: measure the percentage of southern Colorado passengers who bypass the Springs to fly from DIA.

The percentage of passengers bypassing the Springs is up slightly from the 45 percent in a 2011 Seabury study based on 2010 travel data.

The updated study, which included a survey of nearly 500 inbound and outbound leisure and business travelers, found 77 percent of southern Colorado airline passengers rated the cost of flights as the top or second-most important factor in selecting which airport they used, followed by flight availability, the proximity of the airport to their home and whether nonstop service was available.

When it comes to flight availability, the task force heard that southern Colorado passengers feared getting stuck at the Colorado Springs Airport if their flights were canceled or delayed, because of the limited number of flights at the Springs facility.

The survey found about two-thirds of leisure travelers and nearly three-fourths of business travelers would take flights from Colorado Springs if the fares were the same as a flight to the same city from Denver. Nearly a quarter of business travelers would be willing to pay up to $50 more to fly from the local airport.

Seabury also found that the average one-way fare from the Springs was $34, or 22.7 percent, higher than the $150 average one-way fare from DIA for the 12 months ending March 31.

Results of the study, survey and focus groups of corporate and government travel managers will be used to develop recommendations for the Springs airport by early next year on how to get more passengers to use its flights. Seabury also will help the airport come up with strategies to keep airlines that already operate here, and win additional service.

The task force will meet again in about a month.

"We look forward to having something to present to the mayor and city council members by the end of the year," Hybl told presenters.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman

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