This time last year, the Colorado Springs Airport was making news headlines for all the wrong reasons.
There was the haymaker from Frontier Airlines, which ended its service between Colorado Springs and Denver with access to its many low-fare flights out of DIA, followed by pulling out of the Springs altogether. Then came the sudden dismissal of Airport Director Mark Earle, not specifically for Frontier’s departure but for disagreeing with Mayor Steve Bach on how to proceed thereafter.
Last June, amid rumors of several airlines perhaps adding or reinstating service, the city gleefully announced that Alaska Airlines would be initiating nonstop daily service between Colorado Springs and Seattle, which began in November.
Then, in mid-July, Bach summoned the media again to unveil a new airport task force of prominent community leaders, including the likes of El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak and Broadmoor President/CEO Steve Bartolin.
Nobody made any promises, but the assumption was those heavy hitters had enough clout to make something happen.
More than six months later, nothing has happened. No headlines, not even any unconfirmed rumors. And the airport’s 2013 total of enplanements — passengers leaving Colorado Springs by any airline — didn’t surpass 600,000 until December, down more than 20 percent from the 755,694 total in 2012.
We asked the city for an update on the task force’s activities, and we’ve been told that will come soon. Of course, with the Olympics going on now and the City for Champions projects consuming so much time and attention, that’s not a surprise.
However, we continue to hear anecdotal stories of air travelers, many of whom would prefer to fly out of here, deciding on Denver because the savings on fares is so substantial, even covering the cost of driving to DIA and parking there.
Just this week, we heard another tale that wasn’t the city’s fault but still caused PR damage. Because of fog here Sunday night, an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Colorado Springs landed in Denver instead. There was no provision for transporting anyone to the Springs, so everyone was sent to a motel with orders to return by 9 a.m. Monday.
Then, as a passenger (one of our staffers) told us, “We were told they weren’t flying to the Springs, but they would take us back to Dallas if we wanted to go. Then they told us we were on our own in getting to the Springs. One young woman only had enough money for cab fare home from the Springs airport, so we all chipped in so she had $50 and could hop on the shuttle — if she could get a seat on it. … Four of us seatmates from the flight had become buddies, and the sister of one of them drove up and brought us all home.”
That’s a planeful of travelers who won’t be flying American again soon. And they probably won’t be flying in or out of Colorado Springs, after the American pilot told them the Springs airport can’t handle low-visibility landings. (Our airport has a standard instrument landing system, but it doesn’t work for all planes. Denver’s ILS and approach lighting are beefier.)
We all can agree we want our airport to succeed. But at this point, we’d settle for any kind of positive news.