Nov. 11--When Colorado Springs Airport officials began courting Frontier Airlines 2 1/2 years ago, they wanted the carrier to begin local air service. But when a Frontier executive mentioned last summer that the airline was studying whether to build a new maintenance hangar, the stakes went up. Winning the hangar would mean 225 high-paying jobs and the potential for nonstop flights to several cities.
Colorado Springs got both last week, when the Denver-based airline announced it will build the hangar here and launch daily flights late next spring.
For city and business leaders, the announcement represented one of the city's biggest economic development projects in recent years. The deal will bring not only jobs and a $25 million construction project to the airport, but also Frontier flights to Denver and the potential for expanded air service to other cities later.
"This is certainly the biggest and the most important aviation development in Colorado Springs since" Western Pacific Airlines began operating here in the mid-1990s, said Mike Kazmierski, president of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.
Frontier now leases a maintenance hangar for its planes at Denver International Airport from Continental Airlines. Frontier officials first studied building their own hangar in 2000, but shelved those plans after the Sept. 11 attacks. The carrier revived those plans in 2005 as a result of its rapid growth and stability in the industry, said Joe Hodas, a Frontier spokesman.
DIA, the Springs and five other Front Range airports submitted bids in May and Frontier officials spent four months analyzing them and visiting many of the airports before narrowing the selection to DIA and the Springs in early October, Hodas said.
Frontier President Sean Menke said the carrier selected the Springs over DIA for the hangar because it offered "the best combination of incentives, financial support and proximity to our Denver hub" and that the city's bid was "a better financial fit for our needs."
Airport officials lured Frontier with a combination of tax breaks and other incentives valued at more than $300,000 a year. The incentives include rebating all property taxes on the hangar and equipment in it and exempting from sales tax aircraft parts used in the hangar.
Frontier also won't have to pay sales tax on construction materials used in the hangar and will get landing fees rebated and extra revenuesharing payments from the airport. The city also will issue tax-exempt bonds to finance construction of the hangar. The hangar is expected to open in 2009.
The incentive package was developed in meetings with airport managers and top city officials, including those from the city's finance and economic development offices, and later sent to Frontier by the city manager, said Mark Earle, the city's aviation manager.
A similar but less generous package convinced Utah-based SkyWest Airlines in 2004 to build a $20 million maintenance hangar that opened in August. As a result, SkyWest has added several flights to the Springs, in part to get aircraft to its hangar.
Frontier will perform heavy maintenance at its hangar, while SkyWest focuses on routine overnight maintenance at its facility, which employs 90.
Heavy maintenance involves major repairs made when an aircraft is taken out of service. Overnight maintenance can include changing tires, replacing seats and checking a variety of mechanical, electrical and hydraulic parts and systems.
"They are very similar projects both strategically and in size of the investment," Earle said. "It is important to create the jobs (in the maintenance hangar), but we want to do it in a way that also increases the level of air service in the community."
SkyWest will receive the same tax breaks offered to Frontier once the Frontier hangar opens. Those breaks are available to any airline that agrees to build a maintenance facility here while also offering local passenger service, Earle said.
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