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Flying High

The statistics are nothing short of amazing. By November of 2017, more than 1.5 million passengers had passed through the Colorado Springs Airport for the year. By December, the facility had seen 200,000 more passengers than the year before. It comes to about a 30 percent annual increase overall. Frontier Airlines alone had a 291 percent increase in traffic from the prior year.

It seems the Colorado Springs Airport is off and running … er, flying. 

In the year or so that he’s been director of aviation, Greg Phillips has witnessed this remarkable increase in business. 

For one thing, carriers like Frontier offered seasonal flights to destination cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., and San Diego, with American Airlines adding Chicago to its flight lineup. In October, Frontier also began service to Fort Myers and Tampa, Fla. This year, service to Seattle and San Antonio begins April 8, with new routes to Minneapolis-Saint Paul and San Jose beginning April 9.

All those new flights made an undeniable impact, Phillips says, despite the fact that a couple of new additions didn’t make it – the Allegiant flight to Phoenix and Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle.

“October, usually a slow month, was our biggest month in over eight years,” Phillips says. But he’s not stopping there.

“We continue to press forward with air service,” he says, and the airport has even hired an air service consultant. “We have gotten aggressive with meeting with airlines to bring in new service. It’s always the airlines decision, but I want to make sure we make a solid business case,” to entice them to try this market.”

An airport relies on more than just commercial flights, he says. There are other components that comprise the business.

For example, the Springs airport works closely with Peterson AFB to support their expansion, and has built a beautiful new 6,000-square-foot executive facility for private planes – corporate and general aviation traffic. That’s also growing, he says. 

The Springs airport also has built a new 60,000-square-foot hangar for Sierra Nevada Corp, a major business that does a lot of contract work for the military.

“That could mean 2,000 new jobs for our economy,” he says. “And they want another hangar the same size this year, and possibly another after that.”

All this means that the Springs airport can lower its fees for commercial airlines. 

From 2013 to 2017, the airport was able to lower its per-passenger fee to commercial carriers from $13 per person to $4 per person. For low-cost carriers like Frontier, that is the difference between flying in and out of our city to finding another airport, he says.

“Our mission, first and foremost, is customer service,” Phillips says. “But our second focus is on spreading out our revenue base so that we can bring in additional airlines and flights. 

These other revenue-producing sidelines also help the airport pay down its debt and build up cash reserves.

“In 2019, we intend to pay off the rest of our debt,” Phillips says. “That alone will bring our costs down.”

Besides the income from the increased number of airfares, the airport gets revenues from more car rentals, more concessions sales, and so on.

But who’s paying for all this?

“Our budget runs in the black every year,” Phillips says. “The airport is an enterprise fund, and as such, we don’t take any tax revenue from the local community. An airport is a business. We don’t do anything unless we make enough revenue to support it.” 

More exciting enterprises are in the works, he says.

For example, 900 acres of adjacent land dedicated to non –aeronautical development is being examined. Expected to provide an economic boost for the local community, the park offers customized sites for sale with development incentives for office, industrial, retail, entertainment, recreation, and hospitality uses. 

The master-planned Peak Innovation Park will be located at the entrance to the airport, tying it to the community.

“It can’t be used for aviation, but it can be used for related businesses, like a hotel or restaurant or a convenience store.” 

Everything is being done with the competition in mind, Phillips says.

“One thing we always have to consider, I’d say, is that there is an alternative to Colorado Springs, and that’s Denver. The picture some people may have (of the Springs) may be an old picture. We’re adding flights, adding routes, and that will bring down fares. Our fares already have come down. And you don’t’ have to drive to Denver in iffy weather, pay high parking fees, or wait in that long line at security. We’re much more convenient.

“I tell people, ‘Look before you book.’ Consider all the factors.”

Besides, he says, when you fly in and out of the Springs, “when you get home, you’re home in 20 minutes.”