Frontier trims new service before flying
ASPEN ” Citing economic problems, Frontier Airlines announced Wednesday that it has canceled service to Missoula, Mont., which was one of eight new cities that the company planned to fly into starting next month.
Aspen is one of those new destinations. Frontier Airlines will make its inaugural flight into Sardy Field on Saturday morning. Frontier will operate three daily flights from Aspen to Denver until May 15. After that it will be five daily flights.
Frontier’s decision to bail on the Missoula market won’t affect service into Aspen, airline industry officials say.
“I did get a phone call [from Frontier] reassuring us that Aspen is not going to be canceled,” said Bill Tomcich, president and CEO of Stay Aspen Snowmass and the local liaison to the airline industry.
Frontier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 10. That type of protection allows the airline to conduct business as usual while it goes through reorganization.
Officials from Frontier Airlines Holdings, Inc. said Wednesday that the airline had reached a mutual agreement with Republic Airways to terminate their code sharing agreement. There will be a structured reduction and gradual phase-out of Republic’s 12 aircraft from Frontier’s daily operation to be completed by mid-June.
“We appreciate the great job Republic has done in helping us serve our customers,” said Frontier President and CEO Sean Menke. “Republic, while operating under the Frontier brand, provided a safe, efficient and customer-friendly product that is hallmark to our company. Unfortunately with current economic conditions and other business changes, we have been forced to drastically rethink the use of regional aircraft in our fleet mix.”
Frontier also canceled service to Sioux City, Iowa; Jacksonville, Fla.; Little Rock, Ark.; Memphis, Tenn. and Tulsa, Okla.
Those cities, including Missoula, were served by Republic Airways’ aircraft that were operated by Frontier.
“We have enjoyed our partnership with Frontier and have a lot of respect for their people,” said Republic CEO Bryan Bedford. “It’s unfortunate that despite their many efforts to reorganize their business outside of Chapter 11, factors beyond their control conspired to force a deeper reorganization. We wish them success in their continuing efforts to combat persistently high oil prices.”
Joe Hodas, a spokesman for Frontier, said the airline is proceeding with plans to start service to Aspen on its subsidiary, Lynx Aviation, on April 26.
Lynx announced its expansion plans in February. In addition to Aspen, the new cities Lynx will fly into include Colorado Springs, Grand Junction and Durango, as well as Jackson, Wyo., Fargo, N.D. and Bozeman, Mont.
While it might seem odd that a struggling airline is adding service, Lynx Aviation President Tom Nunn told The Times earlier this month that the Aspen route and other new cities selected for expanded Lynx service are “critical” to helping Frontier weather tough times.
Jet fuel prices have soared 60 percent in the last year, Nunn said. Three small air carriers went out of business earlier this month and even the largest airlines are dipping into cash reserves to cover the increased costs.
A key to its strategy is serving Aspen with its new fleet of 10 Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft. The Q400, dubbed the “green machine,” is about 35 percent more fuel efficient than a similarly sized regional jet.
“Their decision to end their agreements with Republic (70-passenger EMB-170s) and focus on their more cost efficient 74-passenger Q-400s makes perfect sense to me as a strategy now that they have this incredibly efficient machine,” Tomcich said.
The high fuel prices will continue to cause upheaval in the airline industry, determining what markets will continue to be served and where cuts will be made.
The new regional markets announced in February are shorter-haul markets, better suited to leveraging the economics of the Q400, airline officials say.
Frontier is the second largest carrier in Denver, behind United Airlines. It flies to 60 cities in the U.S., as well as destinations in Mexico and Canada. It serves about 12 million passengers annually.
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