DALLAS – As Colorado Springs’ population boomed over the past two decades, the city’s airport traffic has shriveled, the city’s aviation director said.

The 822,008 passengers boarding in Colorado Springs in 2012 fell about 80% below the 5 million peak recorded in 1996, when the now-defunct Western Pacific Airlines had its hub there.

Dan Gallagher, interim aviation director, said in a city council budget presentation this month that enplanements in 2013 were down 37% since 2007 and the lowest in 22 years.

Meanwhile, the city’s population grew more than 15% to 416,427 from 2000 to 2010, anchoring a metro area of 645,613, according to the U.S. Census. 

The Colorado Springs airport faces stiff competition from Denver International Airport 70 miles to the north.

Frontier Airlines, the Denver-based carrier that acquired Western Pacific in bankruptcy court, this year ended all flights at Colorado Springs.

Despite the city’s growing market size and lower enplanement costs, the small airport cannot offer the discounts available at Denver from carriers such as Southwest and Frontier or the frequency and destinations available from United Airlines.

Moody’s Investors Service estimates the leakage of passengers from the Colorado Springs area to Denver at 45%.

Gallagher said the airport is planning to lower costs, in part by refinancing debt for a savings of at least 25%. Gallagher said that the timing and the amount of refunding has not been determined.

The airport has about $31 million of revenue bonds outstanding through 2023 with ratings of BBB-plus from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings and Baa1 from Moody’s Investors Service.

Moody’s downgraded the airport bond ratings from A3 on Feb. 26, and S&P followed suit Sept. 13, dropping its rating from A-minus.

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