Low fares lure local residents back to Aspen airport
ASPEN, Colorado – Strong competition between airlines has lowered fares at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and lured more Roaring Fork Valley residents to use the facility, Director of Aviation Jim Elwood said Monday.
The airport logged its first significant increase in passenger boardings in a year during August, according to statistics tracked by the airport. Boardings were up 3 percent for the month year to year.
In contrast, the U.S. airline industry’s passenger boardings were down 6 percent in August even though carriers slashed fares to fill seats. Airfares were down by an average of 17 percent for the month.
For the summer months, Aspen-Pitkin County’s boardings were essentially flat from 2008. “We’re down about 5 percent so far for this year, which is way less than most airports,” Elwood said.
The airport logged modest increases in April and December compared to the same months the previous year, but the August numbers were the first healthy gain.
The Aspen airport might have received a boost this summer from the Eagle County Airport’s closure to commercial traffic from the end of last ski season until Sept. 1 while its runway was rebuilt and lengthened. That might have spurred residents of the lower Roaring Fork Valley to check the Pitkin County airport as an option.
Elwood said he believes Roaring Fork Valley residents were starting to use the Pitkin County airport more often even before the Eagle County Airport’s closure.
“I’m not a believer that it has much to do with Eagle’s closure, as some others do,” Elwood said. “I really think the midvalley folks gave us another look because of Frontier’s arrival and what has happened to airfares.”
Frontier started its Lynx service to Aspen in April 2008. The competition drove down fares charged by United Express, the dominant carrier in the market.
Pitkin County Manager Hilary Fletcher said there were “screaming deals” to be had this summer, and they are continuing into fall and winter. She said she is flying to Phoenix this fall for $200 round-trip – a fare low enough that it wouldn’t make sense to drive to Denver in search of a lower rate.
“I think a lot of people in the past wouldn’t even bother to check the Aspen airfares and now they’re at least checking,” Fletcher said.
Pitkin County has been courting Roaring Fork Valley residents for two years, since a survey showed downvalley had essentially given up on the Pitkin County airport as an option because of its high fares. They were using the Grand Junction, Eagle County and Denver airports. Elwood believes the courting has worked.
“We’ve done some outreach to the midvalley to say ‘Hey, it’s not going to work every time, we realize that, but don’t forget about us, have a look,'” he said. “With fares being what they’ve been, people have come back around.”
The high numbers of vehicles parking in the short- and long-term lots at the airport indicate the strong performance this summer was due to locals, according to Elwood.
“I really think it’s turned out to be folks taking another look and the fact that we have a product that people wanted to buy,” he said.