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Aspen airport No. 3 in economic impact

Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
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ASPEN ” Despite the grim outlook for the aviation industry, Colorado airports continue to be the lifeblood of the state economy, injecting it with $32.2 billion last year.

That finding and gobs of other financial data are found in the 2008 Colorado Airports Impact Study, released last month. The study also shows that Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, by pumping $1.1 billion into the economy, boasted the third largest economic impact among the state’s 14 airports that offer commercial flights.

Colorado’s flagship airport, Denver International, accounted for $22.3 billion, while $3.5 billion came from Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, good enough for No. 2 in the survey.



“[Aspen/Pitkin County Airport] is so critical to our economy,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations firm. “We know that 80 percent of all winter visitors fly here.”

And, they spend more money than fliers to the state’s other airports. The report shows that on average, passengers on Aspen’s commercial aircraft spent $2,652 each. That was tops in the state, nearly $600 more than Eagle County Regional Airport, whose fliers spent $2,070, the study shows.



The 2008 Colorado Airports Impact Study was put out by the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics. The previous one, released in 2003, showed that Colorado’s airports had an economic impact of $23.5 billion, nearly $9 billion shy of the latest figure.

“At worst, these types of studies underestimate the economic impact,” said aviation consultant Mike Boyd of Lakewood, Colo.-based The Boyd Group Inc.

In addition to the state’s 14 commercial airports, the study also looked at the 60 general aviation airports in Colorado.

“There are hundreds of non-aviation businesses in Colorado who have located in this state as a result of the excellent airport system,” the report notes. “Without access to commercial and/or general aviation airports, the productivity of many of these businesses would be jeopardized, and they could be forced to scale back their activities in Colorado.”

The study’s methodology used four categories to determine economic impacts: direct, indirect, induced, and total.

For example, the study notes that a direct impact comes straight from the airport, while an indirect one might come from someone who flies into the airport and then spends money outside of it.

Induced impacts, on the other hand, could be the economic impact that is spurred by an airport employee who spends his or her money on goods and services that support other jobs and payrolls.

Those three factors are combined to calculate the total impact, which is how the economic impact is measured, the study noted.

Using that methodology, the study concluded that Aspen’s airport accounted for 11,950 jobs in Colorado last year, equating to an annual payroll of $336.6 million and an annual economic output of $1.1 billion.

That was the third highest total on the list, ahead of Eagle County Regional Airport’s 10,467 jobs.

Even the smaller, general aviation airports have a formidable economic impact. Glenwood Springs Municipal and Garfield County Regional (located in Rifle), for example, accounted for 130 and 508 jobs, respectively, the report showed.

“If there wasn’t an airport in Aspen,” Boyd noted, “the St. Regis would be half the size it is now.”

He added: “If you go to ski areas like Mammoth (California), there’s no air service anywhere near it. If there were air service there, the economic impact would be huge. And the airport in Rifle, let’s just say most people view it as a place where an orthodontist with too much money flies into, but the net impact from that is even strong.”

While the study touted the value of Colorado’s network of airports, it also comes at a time when airlines are struggling financially. All three of the carriers that serve Aspen’s airport ” United, Delta and Frontier ” have faced fiscal challenges of late. United is cutting flights and Frontier has been eliminating routes in the wake of its chapter 11 bankruptcy, declared last month; and Delta has sliced its workforce roughly in half ” by 30,000 jobs.

Boyd said the trend likely will catch up with airports such as Aspen’s.

“As far as economic impact goes, it’s not going to change a lot,” Boyd said of the trend. “But there are issues for Aspen because those discretionary dollars are going to drop. There’s going to be less flying in and out of the Aspen airport.”

With the upgraded Aspen airport, however, Tomcich feels confident because it is able to accommodate a wider variety of aircraft, and the people who visit here are typically the well-heeled type.

“While the airline industry is truly in a crisis and what’s going to happen next is anyone’s guess,” Tomcich explained, “we are now in a far better position to deal with major changes to the airline industry than we were just three years ago.”

To read the entire report online, visit http://www.colorado-aeronautics.org/aeroecono.htm

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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