Aspen airport flying high, bucking national trends | SteamboatToday.com

Aspen airport flying high, bucking national trends

Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

— Lower airfares helped the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport buck the trend that plagued the airline industry last year, according to aviation and tourism officials.

Aspen's air carriers saw just a small drop in passenger boardings last year while the U.S. airline industry as a whole saw numbers sag by 6 percent.

Overall capacity was sliced about 7 percent last year, yet it increased significantly in Aspen.

"We're really pleased about how the year ended up," said Jim Elwood, aviation director at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

Frontier Airlines' Lynx service operated in Aspen for its first full year in 2009. The competition drove down airfares and enticed locals and tourists to use the airport.

Elwood said the most significant change in 2009 was a greater amount of business from locals. More people from Aspen to Glenwood Springs flew out of Aspen rather than driving to Denver International Airport or other departure points, he said.

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The low fares made the Aspen airport more attractive for destination guests, as well, said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a bookings agency. In the past, fewer than half of destination guests have flown directly into the Aspen airport, he said. Many flew to Denver, Eagle and even Grand Junction, and then drove to Aspen. He termed the loss of passengers to other airports "spillage." That loss will likely decrease this winter, he said.

Tomcich said he thinks the high cost of renting a car in Denver right now also contributes to increased use of the Aspen airport. "The option of flying directly into (Aspen) has never been more convenient or more affordable than it is right now," he said.

Figures released by the airport show that almost 220,000 passengers boarded commercial flights in Aspen last year. That's down only 1.4 percent despite the recession. In addition, it is up about 20 percent from the 2007 volume.

Lynx snared nearly a quarter of the market with 51,354 passenger boardings. But that didn't come at the expense of United Express, the biggest carrier in the market. United Express service operated by SkyWest Airlines logged 127,337 passenger boardings, roughly the same as the prior year. Its share was 58 percent of the market.