Airport in SLO has Denver on its radar

One airline has expressed interest in creating a direct flight from San Luis Obispo to Denver — but only if San Luis Obispo County can prove there is a demand.

Currently, San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport connects to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix, but at least 50 percent of local travelers choose to drive and embark from airports outside of the county.

“That’s very bad for our community,” said Mike Manchak, president and CEO of the Economic Vitality Corp. of San Luis Obispo County. “With airports, it’s ‘use it or lose it,’ ” he said.

He would not disclose which airline is interested.

Because business travelers make up 70 percent of airlines’ business, the San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau, the airport, the EVC and the San Luis Obispo County Air Transportation Alliance are using a survey to demonstrate the local business community’s level of willingness to use and pay for direct service from San Luis Obispo to Denver.

A 2009 travel pattern survey with 2,000 local respondents conducted by the airport’s consulting firm, Sixel Consulting, identified Denver as a priority destination for the business community because it is an all-weather airport that will expedite connections eastward, provide international connections, and increase competition among local airline carriers.

That survey also showed that Denver is a frequent tourism destination for local travelers.

The well-being of an airport can spiral upward or downward, and with it comes significant economic effects.

“Getting more air service often begets even more service, typically causing even more competitive pricing and more options for travelers. The airport provides large tax revenues to our communities and the ability to help local businesses thrive and create jobs by transporting their employees and customers,” Manchak said.

In 2008, the San Luis Obispo airport lost American Airlines and Delta Connection, leaving it with US Airways and United Express. At the time, American Eagle spokeswoman Andrea Huguely told The Tribune that the airline’s flights from San Luis Obispo, despite often being filled, had not been profitable for two years.