Aspen airport third on economic-impact list |

Aspen airport third on economic-impact list

Rick Carroll
Vail, CO, Colorado

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 other financial data are found in the 2008 Colorado Airports Impact Study, released in May. The study also shows that the 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.

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

“(The 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, commercial aircraft passengers to Aspen spent $2,652 each. That was tops in the state, nearly $600 more than Eagle County Regional Airport.

The 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.

But even those heady numbers may not tell the whole story.

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

The report notes that hundreds of non-aviation businesses in Colorado have located in Colorado because of its airports.

“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 report states.

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. The study estimated that Eagle County Regional Airport accounted for 10,467 jobs.

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

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 economic challenges. United is cutting flights and Frontier has been dropping routes in the wake of its chapter 11 bankruptcy, last month. Delta has sliced its workforce roughly in half, with 30,000 jobs eliminated.

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,” he said. “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.”

But, Tomcich said, recent airport improvements at Aspen will open the facility to more flights from more places.

We are now in a far better position to deal with major changes to the airline industry than we were just three years ago,” he said.

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