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Aspen airport plan could help attract airline service

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport may take a more proactive role to ensure it maintains service by more than one commercial air carrier.Jim Elwood, director of aviation, has proposed the airport undertake a Commercial Air Service Development Strategic Plan to better position itself to maintain competitive commercial service in a volatile market marked by airline mergers and circumstances that led two of four airlines serving Aspen to pull out since 2008.”We’ll try to be a little more forward-looking about our circumstances than we have been,” Elwood said.At present, the local airport is served by two commercial carriers, United and Frontier, and Frontier’s ongoing service hinges on the continued availability of six aircraft, he noted in a memo to county commissioners.Commissioners are scheduled to take up the proposed plan and associated costs, totaling $57,500, at their work session Tuesday.Some airports use subsidies or other financial incentives to attract commercial air service – something Aspen has not done, according to Elwood. The strategic plan will help the airport in its efforts to maintain and expand service, he said.It’s the sort of work that has traditionally been done by the airlines themselves, but staffing cutbacks in the industry mean the airlines are no longer studying potential new destinations, according to Elwood.The strategic plan will delve into data about what markets Aspen travelers are flying to and from and in what numbers, and other information airlines need when they consider providing service. Serving a new market is a multi-million-dollar investment for an airline, which must analyze the profitability of flying into Aspen versus somewhere else, Elwood said.”It’s to help them feel comfortable with the risk of starting air service,” he said.The goal is to share the information with airlines.The study would be done by Wisconsin-based Mead & Hunt, an architectural and engineering consulting firm that does work in aviation and that the airport already has under contract, Elwood said.The cost would come from $380,000 in additional revenue that the airport will receive from Frontier’s continued operation into Aspen this year – funds that were not initially budgeted, according to Elwood’s memo. janet@aspentimes.com