ARCHIVED  October 8, 2010

Fort Collins-Loveland soaring to new heights

LOVELAND – New milestones are looming for the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport, as a new service route takes off and a new airport manager will soon be landed to guide the growth of the 47-year-old facility.

Seven years after beginning direct flights to and from Las Vegas, Allegiant Air is beginning service Oct. 8 to a second destination, Mesa-Phoenix.

The new service route to Arizona was announced in August with $29.99 one-way introductory flights offered between Oct. 8 and Jan. 31, 2011. Tickets for the special fares had to be purchased by Sept. 1.

“We actually had lines out the front of the terminal for many days,´ said Keith Reester, Loveland public works director and interim airport manager. “People seem to be pretty excited about it.”

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which specializes in connecting smaller markets with direct flights to popular destinations, started offering direct flights from Loveland to Las Vegas in mid-2003. A 2008 study by the Colorado Division of Aeronautics showed Allegiant’s then-six-flights-per week had a regional impact of $56 million annually and helped create about 750 jobs.

Dave Gordon, former airport director who was appointed director of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division in April, said the new Arizona flights would add an estimated $150,000 to $160,000 in annual airport revenue.

Allegiant dropped back to four weekly Las Vegas flights last year, but is back to six flights a week with the Arizona flights on Mondays and Fridays.

Jordan McKee, an Allegiant spokesman, said the local reaction to the new service route has been satisfying.

“Sales for that new route are definitely meeting expectations,” he said. “The ticket sales are where we expect them to be.”

McKee said Allegiant does not release specific ticket sales numbers.

More milestones

The direct passenger flights have been two major milestones in the airport’s relatively short history. Other milestones have included the addition of the Jet Center, the fixed-base operator that opened in 1994 and serves local pilots, and the acquisition of the airport by the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins in 2000 after an airport authority shut down.

Both cities contribute $85,000 each to the airport’s annual $875,000 budget.

In 2001, CentrePoint Business Airpark began developing on the airport’s east side, offering taxiway connections to the airport and quick access to Interstate 25.

Michael Ehler, a broker with Realtec Commercial, said the down economy has slowed the development of CentrePoint. “Things have really slowed, really for the last three years now,” he said. “The project did well until mid-to-late 2007. We sold 43 lots and have sold all but three from the original developer.”

Quebec-based Group LSR is the developer, Ehler said. “They’re very active in Texas and Florida, but this is their only project in Colorado.”

A second business park is envisioned in the immediate vicinity. Martin Lind, developer of Windsor’s Water Valley, is hoping to find a way to finance a park on 250 acres of land he owns on the airport’s north and south sides. Lind secured approval in December 2008 of both the Loveland and Fort Collins city councils to move forward with formation of a special taxing district to fund its development.

But the economic slowdown also put Lind’s plan on hold until investment money loosens up. “We’d like to continue with the project, but we’re in a chicken-and-egg thing,” Lind said. “But we still see it as a very viable project.”

Lind’s agreement with the cities remains in force until September 2011.

Pilots love it

Meanwhile, the once-sleepy airport is well-loved by the 200-plus local pilots who own or lease private planes and hangars at the facility.

Howard Abraham, president of the 6-year-old Fort Collins-Loveland Pilots Association, said he’s been flying his plane out of the airport since 1973 and has watched it grow steadily.

“I can’t imagine this area being the same economically or having the same quality of life without the airport,” he said. “It provides an avenue for bringing business interests into and out of our area. I think it’s a tremendous resource for this community.”

Abraham said the airport is lucky to have Allegiant providing direct air service and that local pilots aren’t negatively impacted by its presence. “Six flights a week will have hardly any impact on us,” he said. “We get along extremely well with the Allegiant folks.”

Abraham said he hopes the next airport manager – due to be hired as early as this month – has a wide understanding of airport needs. “We would like to see a manager who understands airport operations and the airport’s future from a user’s point of view, for general aviation and for business, someone who can improve it as a Northern Colorado gateway for all sorts of users.”

The airport received a blow earlier this year when an expected $1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration did not come through, shelving an $8 million runway rehabilitation project. Expanding the airport’s 8,500-foot runway is not likely to happen anytime soon, given land constraints on all sides. That means planes bigger than Allegiant’s 150-seat aircraft are generally not able to land and take off there.

CDOT’s Gordon said Allegiant’s success at the Fort Collins-Loveland Airport could attract other smaller carriers. “That remains to be seen, but I think they have proven there is a market there for scheduled service,” he said.

But adding other air carriers and stepping up activity at the airport would require some significant new investment in the facility, including a new terminal. Gordon said that would take a strong commitment to the airport from its owner cities and better economic times.

For its part, Allegiant says it is always studying the potential for adding new flights.

“We are always evaluating adding new routes and looking for ways to grow, so if the demand is strong and there is an indication the community will support it, we’ll consider it,” McKee said.

LOVELAND – New milestones are looming for the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport, as a new service route takes off and a new airport manager will soon be landed to guide the growth of the 47-year-old facility.

Seven years after beginning direct flights to and from Las Vegas, Allegiant Air is beginning service Oct. 8 to a second destination, Mesa-Phoenix.

The new service route to Arizona was announced in August with $29.99 one-way introductory flights offered between Oct. 8 and Jan. 31, 2011. Tickets for the special fares had to be purchased by Sept. 1.

“We actually had lines out the…

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