Passenger numbers on outgoing flights at the Colorado Springs Airport last year fell to a 37-year low, but a rebound is expected this year with the arrival in March of Southwest Airlines and expansion by other carriers.
The 363,845 passengers leaving the airport in 2020 was down 56.7% from 2019 and the lowest annual total since 248,657 passengers boarded departing flights in 1983.
Airports and airlines worldwide were hammered last year by the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced travel and resulted in cancellation of most business meetings, conventions and other large gatherings. Colorado Springs fared slightly better than the world as a whole, where passenger numbers were down 60% last year, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. Passenger numbers at Denver International Airport were down 51.6% in the first 11 months of last year.
The decline in the Springs is the second consecutive annual drop in the airport’s passenger numbers. Airlines at the Colorado Springs Airport responded to the pandemic in 2020 by cutting flights and destinations, including Delta‘s nonstop service to Atlanta, Frontier‘s nonstop service to Orlando and United‘s nonstop service to Los Angeles. Seat capacity was cut 44% from 2019; the percentage of seats sold fell from 84.4% in 2019 to 63.4% last year.
“When the pandemic first started and we saw the potential impact, we took a serious look at our budget with potential and worst-case scenarios,” said Greg Phillips, the airport’s director.
“We ended up close to what we had forecast, but well above the worst-case scenario of 261,000 passengers, mostly because travel started to recover more quickly and to a greater extent than that scenario assumed.”
The airport is forecasting outbound passenger traffic will more than double to about 750,000 this year with Southwest’s March 11 arrival. The Dallas-based, low-fare carrier plans to operate 13 daily flights, using 143-seat Boeing 737-700 aircraft, to its hubs in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, giving passengers access to nearly all 100 cities Southwest serves with one connection.
Also, United will resume service to Los Angeles on Feb. 12 and add flights to Denver and Houston, while Frontier will resume flights to Orlando on March 28. Delta will resume flights to Atlanta on April 1 and American will resume service to Chicago on April 2.
“As airlines add capacity, fares tend to go down and Southwest’s fares are already similar to its fares in Denver, so we are expecting all of that to drive additional traffic,” Phillips said.
The reduction last year in traffic and passengers meant the airport used about $10 million of a $24.3 million grant it received under COVID-19 relief legislation enacted last March. Phillips said the airport has budgeted to use another $9 million to $9.5 million this year, though the arrival of Southwest is expected to generate additional revenue that likely will cut the grant funding needed to about half of the budgeted amount.