The Inside Scoop on Colorado Springs Airport

Episode 20 – Greg Phillips

Greg Phillips – Director of Aviation at Colorado Springs Airport

“When I started off in airports, it became pretty clear to me that yes, this is where I want to be. This is what I love to do. And this is where I’m going to throw my hat in the ring and keep it there.” – Greg

“Every one of the airports had something unique about it. And they’re not many airports where somebody can say that they’ve had a bear go through the terminal building.” – Greg

Colorado Springs Airport has the 5th largest runway in the entire US and is the same size or bigger than other well known airports like Chicago’s O’Hare International! Greg graduated from West Point and quickly fell in love with aviation allowing him to be an integral leader at five different airports. He was even on the team that built DIA and explains why there is so much land around it. Greg’s passion for COS shines through as he talks about a new program called ‘Small Surprises’ and their largest tenant who is a huge cornerstone to our community. Keep your ears perked for the hottest zip code in the entire US and what it means to the airport’s growth.

Standout Quotes:

  • “The opportunity to design from the ground up a new airport that would serve the National Air Space System was a tremendous opportunity, a lot of fun to be a part of it.” – Greg
  • “When I started off in airports, it became pretty clear to me that yes, this is where I want to be. This is what I love to do. And this is where I’m going to throw my hat in the ring and keep it there.” – Greg
  • “Every one of the airports had something unique about it. And they’re not many airports where somebody can say that they’ve had a bear go through the terminal building.” – Greg
  • “What I love about this is that every day is different. And you get to deal with challenging issues and solve them for the good of the community. And that’s been fun. I like it.” – Greg
  • “Part of my job is listening to the community. What is it we’re trying to do? Where are we trying to go? What’s important for us in the future? And how are we meeting those needs for this community.” – Greg
  • “What I tell people, and what I encourage people to do is, again, do what works for you. But if you want to see Colorado Springs grow, add more service, and use the service if you want to see the airport. Take the One-Stop.” – Greg
  • “We do everything we can to make it easy for an airline to say yes to COS. And that’s important to us. And we continue to hold that as one of our highest priorities is keeping our costs low. So it’s not an impediment to an airline that wants to provide service to Colorado Springs.” – Greg
  • “One of the things that were most important to me was trying to make sure we’re taking care of our people. And so you know, our people work hard, I didn’t want to see them hurt by this. But at the same time, we’re losing a lot of money. So we got our team together, we immediately found $2.1 million in operational cuts that we can make.” – Greg
  • “Part of being at an airport and looking at the future of the airport is how you are protecting the airport.” – Greg

Key Takeaways:

  • Greg and his team tried to learn from the previous large hub airport built in America when building the Denver Airport. In Dallas-Fort Worth, when DFW opened in 1974, the county and city started selling off land. Then houses sprung up all around DFW. And before they knew it, they were paying millions of dollars to insulate or buy those properties. For this reason, when Denver was built, one of the lessons they learned was to ensure there was enough acreage surrounding it to reduce noise.
  • Airports facilitate the movement of people. The world has shrunk in size as a result of the aircraft. You can travel to see friends, see places, and conduct business in ways previously impossible. It’s beautiful for Greg to see how people work business daily, assist individuals in saving lives and connecting with others, and know that you’re a part of it and how they conduct trade in the United States and globally.
  • Greg understood the federal piece and the engagement with the federal government, which is crucial to what we do at airports, having come from the FAA and the FAA’s airports section. It provided him with an excellent opportunity to study business as well.
  • When Greg began as assistant director, he had two assistant directors and was responsible for the entire airfield. Greg proposed that we get in the vehicle, drive around the airfield. And he adds, “All right, but you know, we have a cardinal rule around here: we don’t let the airport director out on the airfield and endanger Greg’s feelings,” half-jokingly.
  • Operating an airport is a difficult task. Airlines build air service and establish routes based on numbers, and as such, they want to ensure that they have the numbers necessary to make a route function. Greg’s group will have to make a compelling argument for it, given they are not Denver, Houston, or JFK. Colorado Springs is a tiny airport. As a result of their ongoing supply and demand war, they became scrappy and learned to market themselves.
  • None of the airlines have any planes waiting to be assigned. When you receive a route, another airport loses a route. As a result, to get a route, you must first present a strong business case. The numbers must be included. If you’re flying an airplane with 66 seats and the size of a regional jet, or 137 seats and the size of a Southwest Airlines 737 700, you know you’ll have to fill those seats; airplanes don’t make money when they’re half empty.
  • The Colorado Springs airport first opened its doors in 1927. It was just a bit southeast of where the airport is currently when it first opened with gravel landing strips in the 1920s. In the 1920s, everyone was growing enthused about aviation. And every town desired its own small airport, although, at the time, practically everything was done by tailwheel plane. Airplanes can land safely on gravel or grass. It wasn’t until years later that we began to see more asphalt runways.
  • When it comes to business services, most consumers assume they are expensive. It is not the case. All outstanding debt was paid off in 2018. So the airport is debt-free, except for a few very low-interest loans obtained from the state, which we refer to as a cost per claimant. The portion of your plane ticket that goes to the airport to keep the lights on is roughly one-third of what it is in Denver. In addition, they provide incentive programs.
  • The Colorado tiny airport was designed to give helpful, pleasant services and ease of entry into and out of the airport, something that a large airport, such as Seattle, Houston, LAX, or Denver, cannot do. That’s why flying out of your hometown airport is convenient. And that is the type of service they want to provide and wish to provide in Colorado Springs.
  • The airport spans over 7,200 acres, more than JFK and LaGuardia combined and the same size as Chicago O’Hare Airport. The airport has three runways, all of which are over 8,000 feet long. In Colorado Springs, the longest runway is 13,501 feet long. And it’s the country’s fifth-longest Commercial Service runway. As a result, it is longer than four of the five runways.
  • The Coronavirus is a formidable foe. Passenger traffic went off the charts in March 2020, almost literally to March 15th, 2020. And by April of 2020, they were down 97.4 percent of what traffic was in 2019. During the same month. They were suddenly losing a million dollars per month in sales, with no end in sight and no indication of how long the pandemic would endure. And how long would the effects last?
  • Southwest currently has five destinations. And there are five locations that we now serve, but you’ll have access to an entirely new network of flights; from those five cities, you’ll be able to fly to over 80 different cities in their 110-city network.
  • The Forest Service has several aerial firefighting facilities scattered across the country to respond to fires, and this year has been particularly bad for fires. All those aerial firefighting tankers you see have a fuel station and a load station somewhere. So they have various sites throughout the country where they do that, but they have a few planes that are so enormous that there are only a few places where they can fill them up.
  • Greg’s team supports a variety of local and community events and activities. And it’s stuff like these that help them stay a part of the community. Another thing they’re doing more of today, you know, at the airport itself, is what we call “little surprises.” So, on any given day, the marketing crew will go out on the concourse and offer small funny glasses, koozies, or other old items as a thank you. One day, they set up an ice cream counter to thank guests for flying.
  • The cost of projects at the airport are high, and they take a long time to complete. So you have to be looking ahead and attempting to plan for the demands of forecasting traffic, market, and, to the best of their ability, what aircraft mix will look like in the future.
  • Although the Peak Innovation Park is on airport property, it is classified as a non-aeronautical business park. It implies that there are specific areas of land, even in airports, where you’ll never be able to build a runway, taxiway, or even have planes fly back and forth. And, as a non-aeronautical business park, we needed approval or permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to do so.
  • Soybean oil has been included in a blend of alternative fuels. Sustainable aviation fuel is what it’s termed. What it is, you know, is an endeavor to look at alternative materials that can be used as fuel, similar to biofuel. Some airports use a combination of these biofuels. Using a cleaner fuel source provides several advantages: It decreases our reliance on fossil fuels by providing an alternative that burns cleaner and generates more electricity than conventional. It is part of the futuristic technologies that we shall witness. And this, in turn, should assist in reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental impact that airplanes and airports have.
  • The airport’s primary goal is to meet the demands of the local population. If you look at only the state of Colorado, it has been estimated that 5 million people live along with the front range of the state’s 5.8 million residents. So that’s clearly where the majority of the people are. So, how are we going to serve that segment of the population? How are we going to complement, not compete with, Denver and the other airports?

Episode Timeline:

[02:45] Meet today’s guest “Greg Phillips,” Director of Aviation at Colorado Springs Airport.

[05:11] Greg’s Past Deputy Manager Career

[08:16] What influenced Greg to get to Aviation?

[11:53] Greg’s Work as an Assistant Director

[18:50] The Airport’s History

[20:40] Are commercialized services expensive?

[22:06] What is Colorado Spring Airport?

[23:20] Uncommon Knowledge About the Airport?

[24:45] Who are the members of the Airfield Arrival and Departure Group?

[27:16] Post COVID Impact

[30:16] Sanitation and Cleaning for Health Protocols

[32:42] What is the addition of Southwest Airlines meant for the airport?

[35:26] What are the Five Destinations of Southwest?

[36:29] The Forest Services

[38:49] Is the Airport considered a member of the community?

[41:28] What is the Airport’s Masterplan?

[45:07] What is The Peak Innovation Park?

[48:49] The Future of Sustainable Fuels

[51:36] The overarching purpose of the airport

[57:23] How to connect with Colorado Springs Airport and Greg

Learn more about Greg Phillips and the Colorado Springs Airport at: