Just as the engine is the beating heart of an aircraft, Greg Phillips sees Colorado Springs Airport as being just as vital in fueling the city’s growth.
“It’s about continuing to grow [the airport] as an economic engine,” said the director of aviation, who has been at the helm of COS since January 2017.
Phillips previously worked in executive positions at four other airports: Bend Municipal Airport in Oregon; Missoula, Montana International Airport; Pangborn Memorial Airport in Wenatchee, Wash; and the Vail/Eagle County Regional Airport.
“If you are going to work at airports and you look at career progression, you are going to have to look at other towns,” Phillips said. “But, I made a list when I first got into airports and listed the three biggest ones I thought I would be interested in, and Colorado Springs was one of those.”
The military brat had visited 49 of the country’s 50 states before turning 21. Phillips attended The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he received his engineering degree. He went on to earn helicopter wings and his Army Ranger tab during his service.
The avid cyclist and alpine ski coach recently spoke with the Business Journal about his vision for the COS and growing it to become the city’s largest economic engine.
What do you love best about your work?
That’s easy. The variety — the fact that no two days are the same; the fact that there is always some new challenge, opportunity, something new to explore. The other part is I am just in that place in my career where I feel what we do contributes. I believe what we do makes a difference and I see it every day. You go down to the concourse and you see people going, you see people coming and they have the star in their eye that says, ‘I’m excited. I’m interested. I’m doing something fun.’ They are coming to Colorado Springs to do something — whether it’s to go see family and friends or on business or just to see someplace new and exciting. That’s what airports do.
What are some of your goals?
For the airport, we operate with four lines of business: the commercial side, general aviation, Peterson Air Force Base and then the business development — the business park and other non-aeronautical development here.
Our goal is to grow the economic engine that the airport is for this community. [The Colorado Department of Transportation] in 2013 said the annual economic impact of the Colorado Springs Airport was $3.6 billion. They are starting to evaluate that again right now and I expect that new number to be a lot higher. The same way that Denver says [Denver International Airport] is their biggest economic engine for that area, I would say down here in Colorado Springs that we’re a heck of an economic engine. The airport is a key factor for all business. When the [Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC] talks to new businesses, one of the questions that always get asked is, ‘What kind of service does your airport have? Can my people get in and out to do business?’ That’s important. So continuing to grow the commercial side is a key goal of this airport and then to try and improve service to this community.
What’s the biggest challenge you face?
The proximity of the Denver airport and the challenge to get new service [to COS]. DIA is the only airport in the country that has three hub carriers, which are United, Frontier and Southwest. Other airports just have one or, like, Seattle has two with Delta and Alaska. But Denver, because they have [three]- — it’s like a ‘battle royale.’ Fares are really low there, lower than they are most anywhere else in the nation. That makes it a challenge because price is the key differentiator for most travelers. Everybody in this town would like to fly out of Colorado Springs if the flights are going in the right place, if the schedule’s good and, most of all, if the fare is good. Our challenge is to continue to bring new service in and try and ensure that the airlines are looking to keep the fares reasonable here. That’s the No. 1 goal. The other goal is … [broadening] our revenue [streams] enough that we can weather the ups and downs of the economy. Having other businesses here helps us keep our rates low. Our rates — what we charge airlines — is about a third of what Denver charges. We don’t ever want that to get in the way of an airline saying, ‘Yeah, I don’t really want to come to the Springs because it’s too expensive.’ We want to make it easy.
What advice do you give employees?
It may be a little different between the managers and supervisors and the staff, but one thing I would say to all of them is to take care of each other. We’re a team here and we’re a family. As such, it’s important that we take care of each other and show some grace. If tensions rise and things get in the way, take a break. … Don’t pick a fight here. Let’s be clear about what it is we’re working on. And, you know, let’s focus and let’s get things done.
Training is important in my view. I think people, particularly younger people coming into the workforce, want to know organizations will help train them so that they’re continually getting better. Also, they want to know their opinion matters. From the youngest employee to the oldest, they all have good ideas; everybody knows something.
Join the Colorado Springs Business Journal, iHeartRadio, UCCS and Amnet for the 2019 COS CEO Leadership Lessons with Greg Phillips, 4:30-6:30 p.m., June 13, at The Warehouse, 25 W. Cimarron St. A portion of the proceeds go to the 2019 Give! Campaign. Sponsors also include the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC and Stockman Kast Ryan + Co.