Colorado Springs Airport passengers, like Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind," have eagerly embraced dashing new airlines, only to watch them depart a few months later, leaving behind bittersweet memories of once-easy connections, convenience and competitive - even low - prices.
Local airport officials resigned themselves to the meteoric rise and equally dramatic fall of Western Pacific Airlines from 1995 to 1998. It hurt to lose the promising hometown carrier that captured 35 percent of the 2.4 million Colorado Springs enplanements in 1996.
January and February enplanements were off 7.3 percent compared to 2006, according to airport records, and 2006 was the second lowest since 1995 for total passenger enplanements.
But based on the arrival this year of two new regional airlines - ExpressJet and Midwest Airlines - with nonstop flights to West Coast and Midwest destinations, business travelers might once again have a reason to believe.
And according to early reports from both companies, that optimism might be well-founded.
ExpressJet continues to operate Continental Express, initiated its own branded coast-to-coast service this month after two years of planning. The airline is using 69 Embraer jets to serve 24 cities. From Colorado Springs, it offers two flights daily to San Diego, Sacramento and Ontario, Calif.
Company spokeswoman Kristy Nicholas said that since the inaugural flight to Sacramento and Ontario on April 28 and the first direct flight to San Diego on May 7, bookings have grown steadily, although no data is available for exact load factors.
That news has found a receptive audience with economic development officials, as well as military and corporate residents hungry for easy access to popular destinations.
"Airline service is certainly an important factor in corporate site selection," said Mike Kazmierski, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. "In fact, we've included news of the additional direct flights to California in our new Southern California marketing campaign. "
Colorado Springs Aviation Director Mark Earle said that Midwest Airlines had been on the airport's list and was initially contacted on behalf of Colorado Springs by a consultant, "but they made the first call ... and they advised us in that call that they were ready to announce the market. "
Kazmierski said the airline's future is promising, especially since Midwest connects with regular flights to Washington, D.C., a popular destination with military and defense contracts.
"Any time we can make it easier to move back and forth to Washington, when a company thinks about expanding, it makes Colorado Springs that much more attractive," he said.
ExpressJet has diversified its service package to include a relationship with Delta Connections, Delta's regional service carrier for 18 cities, but one of its most promising strategies is to expand into private charter aviation.
"We have started a new corporate aviation division featuring 50-seat planes dedicated to charter service," Nicholas said. "Whether it's a baseball or basketball team that needs to be transported to a game, a racing team and crew, a sales group or even a corporate golf trip, we have been surprised and very pleased with results so far. "
Matt Pasowicz, ExpressJet's general manager in Colorado Springs, said he is pleased with the first month's activity. On a recent weekday, for example, of the18 passengers boarding a San Diego flight, two had purchased their tickets that day and paid the same price as regularly advertised fares.
"If we have room, we don't charge an additional fee for last minute ticketing," Pasowicz said.
During final boarding for the San Diego flight, local businessman Brad Fisk approached the counter on his way to catch another flight.
Two new destinations seem likely for Eppley are San Diego and Ontario.
>"Oh, they're coming here," said Ed Beckman, a Fresno businessman who closely follows the aviation industry. "But the question is, where are they going?"
ExpressJet Airlines will begin non-stop service Monday from both Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Nicholas said she could not comment on what cities ExpressJet will offer nonstop service to, but she said the airline will start selling tickets Thursday.