Next weekend, on Sept. 20 to be exact, Colorado Springs will endure another bad-news story about airline service as United shuts down its nonstop flights between here and Washington’s Dulles International Airport.
At least this news is no surprise. United made the announcement in mid-May, saying the flights (one each way, on smaller regional jets) were “not meeting expectations.” Those jets only handle 70 passengers, but flights were averaging just 55, less than 80 percent full, surprising given the convenience for military as well as defense contractors.
Obviously, nothing happened over the past four months to convince the airline otherwise. With that service ending, Colorado Springs will be down to 11 destinations for outgoing flights.
The most common destination is Denver, with United providing nine flights on a typical weekday, followed by four flights to Chicago O’Hare, three to Houston and three to Los Angeles. American has five flights to Dallas, but otherwise it’s just once-a-day (or less) service — Delta to Atlanta and Salt Lake City, United to San Francisco, Alaska to Seattle and Allegiant to Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Of course, less than two years ago, Springs travelers could fly nonstop to Orlando, Minneapolis and San Diego, plus Frontier flights to Denver connecting to many other cities. When Frontier jilted Colorado Springs in early 2013, that caused the most damage because it removed the competition for fares going to Denver and onward to other destinations.
When Frontier jilted Colorado Springs, it removed the competition for fares going to Denver and onward.
[/pullquote]Meanwhile, the Springs airport’s statistics continue to suffer. The most recent report, through June, showed a slight 2 percent uptick in that month from 2013. But for the first six months of 2014, the total of 296,860 outgoing passengers was down 9.7 percent. July and August likely will be relatively flat, but without the Dulles service, United will lose more in the fall.
What concerns us is the city’s failure to stop the downward spiral. Last year, Mayor Steve Bach assembled a task force of prominent citizens to address the airport’s troubles, but that group has produced no aggressive plans.
In August 2013, the city hired Seabury APG, an international firm that focuses on airport and airline marketing. Seabury produced a study comparing our airport to others in comparable markets, concluding that our biggest shortcoming is not having a major discount airline (Allegiant isn’t big enough to be a factor). Frontier and Southwest would be candidates, but Frontier has shown no sign of returning and Southwest never has given the Springs serious consideration, despite interest from this end starting with former Mayor Lionel Rivera.
The bottom line: Seabury reported that about 2,000 people a day — or 60,000 a month — drive from Colorado Springs and Pueblo to fly out of Denver. Just by cutting that number in half, Colorado Springs could more than double its monthly outgoing passengers (that total was 27,411 in June).
But look back five years ago, to September 2009, and you’ll find the total of outgoing passengers from Colorado Springs was 79,000. In May 2000, it was 104,000. By next month, the number might be only a fourth of that from 14 years ago.
Those figures are alarming, to say the least. And with no solution in sight.