Amid the fire and other stories dominating the area’s news this year, one issue hasn’t maintained much traction. That would be the ongoing need for Colorado Springs to cultivate its place in the airline transportation market.
We’ve had good news and bad during 2012 affecting air travel. On the bright side, Frontier Airlines designated Colorado Springs as a “focus city” and planned more nonstops beyond just Denver. Starting in February, with more announcements since, Frontier has developed flights to Orlando, San Diego, Portland, Seattle and Phoenix.
Also, United Airlines next week is adding a direct late-afternoon flight from Washington (Dulles), considered a major boost for military and defense contractors.
On the down side, Delta Airlines ended nonstop service to Minneapolis, a dependable local option for many years on Northwest Airlines before it merged with Delta in 2008. Minneapolis flights had continued under the Delta banner until a few months ago. Now they’re gone, taking away a vital alternative for the Upper Midwest and connecting to points afar.
Frontier’s plans seemed to make up for much of that pain. But some of Frontier’s flights were just for the summer months, and haven’t continued into the fall and winter. As of this week, there are nonstops to Phoenix, Orlando and San Diego, but that’s it.
Through August, Colorado Springs airport statistics were looking a little better than in 2011. Departing passengers in August rose 4.6 percent over a year earlier, from 75,965 to 79,457 — though without a 7,000-plus increase from Frontier alone, the bottom line would have been lower.
Through the first eight months of 2012, departures from Colorado Springs were down very slightly (less than 1 percent), with arrivals up about the same margin. Notably, United was down 8 percent in departures from 2011.
We’re concerned about those statistics for the final four months of this year. We’re also wondering about Frontier’s future, after the Denver Post last weekend described how the airline could be sold — which could mean reducing its presence in Denver (thus, surely, also Colorado Springs).
Something else bothers us. Many times in recent months, people inside our business community have said something similar to this: “I never fly out of the Springs anymore. Everyone in our company drives to Denver and goes out of there. It’s usually cheaper out of Denver, but that’s not the only reason.”
Perhaps it’s time for the city to revive a former mantra, asking local travelers to make a priority of flying out of Colorado Springs whenever possible. To make connections, you can still go to Dallas on American, Atlanta or Salt Lake City on Delta, and via United to Chicago, Houston, San Francisco or Los Angeles. There’s also the short hop to Denver with its endless options.
Colorado Springs is lucky to have a modern airport, favorable weather and easy access. As we build a more diverse local economy in years ahead, that airport should become a much more productive asset than it’s been.
But for now, we can’t afford to lose what we have.