Residents of Northern Colorado have been scratching their heads over Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air’s decision to end service to Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport this month.
It turns out that a safety issue was behind the decision.
Airline officials informed the city’s leaders in a conference call in August that they were pulling the plug on year-old nonstop flights between Fort Collins and Mesa, Ariz., and that on Oct. 29, it would end service to and from Las Vegas, a route that has been in place for nine years.
Allegiant is known for making quick decisions on routes that don’t sell as well as airline executives expected. The company once announced a route between Las Vegas and Louisiana and canceled it before the first flight took off because advanced sales didn’t meet expectations.
But the Fort Collins flights were different.
Allegiant normally operates one or two flights a week between resort cities and small-town destinations. Fort Collins has had five round trips a week to Las Vegas, and planes frequently run close to full — good indications that the route was popular and profitable.
Allegiant’s only explanation to Fort Collins was that the cancelation was a business decision, meaning that it could likely make more money using planes on other routes.
Fort Collins officials say Allegiant’s pull-out will cost the city $1 million annually. They are now scrambling to find another commercial airline to replace Allegiant, which had the only scheduled service there.
The airport received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for runway improvements largely to accommodate Allegiant, and this year, the airport received an award from the FAA for its safety enhancements.
So why the sudden cancellation?
Some residents of Fort Collins and Loveland theorize that Allegiant had better opportunities elsewhere because locals had become savvy travelers and weren’t buying enough Allegiant add-ons, such as hotel rooms and car rentals, through the airline’s site.
Allegiant CEO Maury Gallagher told me last week that the plug was pulled because of a growing safety concern.
Some of the airports Allegiant frequents are small enough that they don’t have a staffed tower. Jets operate in uncontrolled airspace. Gallagher said the skies around Fort Collins are filled with enough general aviation aircraft that it became a problem.
“The returns there were reasonable, but you have no tower there, and there are lots of small airplanes flying around, and you don’t know where they’re at,” Gallagher said. “It’s a delicate issue, and we appreciate that it has been a great market for us over the years. We like the market, but we made a business decision, hard one as it is, that this is better for the traveling public and for Allegiant.”
If the community wants the airline to return, it’s up to leaders to get their congressional delegation involved in staffing an air traffic control tower to alleviate Allegiant’s concerns.
Maybe that will quiet some of the airline’s critics who believe every decision is driven by revenue.