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Fighting gravity at the Colorado Springs Airport 

City Sage

Slow news day? Not to worry — our irascible mayor will make something happen. Last week, Mayor Steve Bach suddenly defanged the Airport Advisory Commission by announcing that the airport administration no longer would staff commission meetings. That simple act terminated the commission — no agenda, no reports from managers, no traffic forecasts, no meeting space! That's pretty much it for the AAC.

AAC chair Dr. Pat Boone was clearly displeased. She took particular issue with Bach's assertion that the commission had done nothing to turn the airport around, and had made no recommendations to him.

"It's never been the Commission's job to address air service issues," Boone wrote in an e-mail. "Due to the highly sensitive nature of air service discussions, and the airlines' insistence on strict confidentiality, the City has historically limited the Commission's involvement in air service development....

"In addition, it's interesting that the Mayor is willing to make such comments about the AAC while neither he nor [City Attorney] Chris Melcher has ever attended a single meeting. He clearly has no idea what the City Code says about the Commission's function, and no personal experience to back up his comments."

Don't worry, Pat — Bach is moving quickly to remedy his alleged lack of experience. He showed up at the airport at 4:30 a.m. Monday to greet "hundreds" of dazed frequent flyers with free coffee and free copies of the Gazette. It was an agreeable little PR stunt, but one that inadvertently highlighted the airport's biggest problems: It's both inconvenient and expensive.

Do you like to get up at 3:30 a.m., leave home at 4, stumble into the airport at 4:30, drag yourself through TSA screening at 4:45, board your flight at 5:30 or 6, fly to Dallas or Chicago or Denver and wait for your flight to wherever you're actually going? We've all been there, done that.

Or would you rather leave home at 9, board a direct flight from Denver at noon, and spend less than three hours in airborne misery?

All things being equal, it's a toss-up — but all things are not equal.

While driving to Denver International Airport is unpleasant, parking expensive and security lines nightmarish, price differentials can be astonishing. In February, my spouse and I flew to Washington, D.C., for a long weekend and saved $450 by flying from DIA. While gas, parking and tolls on C-470 dropped our net savings to $320 or so, it was still a no-brainer.

If you're the least customer-friendly and highest-cost provider in a market, you won't survive. Absent dramatic change, we could lose our airport.

That doesn't mean our local owls will nest undisturbed in the abandoned control tower. Thanks to the military, and the size of the local market, we'll always have a few hundred thousand annual "enplanements." But unless we can grow the market and compete effectively with DIA, our once-bustling airport will hinder economic development, not support it.

So what should Bach do? Here's some unsolicited advice:

• Forget any more "Passenger Experience" enhancements. Airports are involuntary places — you don't want to be there. You just want to get in and out as fast as possible.

• Make the first seven days of long-term parking free.

• You want more airline service? Don't beg, plead or threaten — just bribe. And while you're at it, figure out a way to bribe local customers as well.

In the real world, our taxes are helping to fund transportation projects that will make our facility even less competitive. When Interstate 25 is six lanes all the way to Denver, it'll be even faster, safer and more convenient to drive to DIA. If we can't solve cost and frequency issues, those Monday flyers soon will become DIA customers — even if they have to pay for coffee and the Denver Post.

Our poor airport! Its expansion was conceived during Ronald Reagan's presidency and reflected the sunny optimism of the time. We didn't know that DIA would become the King Kong of airports, and that ours would be a cuddly little chimpanzee.

Yet it all makes perverse sense. During the 1950s, Reagan made a movie with a talented chimpanzee as his co-lead. You can get it at Netflix.

It's called Bedtime for Bonzo.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

  • Make the first seven days of long-term parking free.

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