New Aspen airline seeks connection with Frontier
The board of directors of Bonanza Airlines convened for the first time Saturday, and afterwards unveiled plans for an Aspen-based air carrier that would provide service to Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Denver and some Western Colorado cities.
Saturday’s meeting at The Little Nell also was attended by Frontier Airlines president Sam Addoms, and there was talk that the two airlines might form a code-sharing agreement – where Bonanza and Frontier would sell each others’ seats, and therefore extend their respective service routes. No formal commitments were made, however.
Bonanza chairman Duggan Brown said the launch date could be as close as two to three months away, or as far off as nine months.
The federally mandated approval processes for start-up airlines typically take six to nine months. However, Brown said he is in negotiation with another airline to associate with its operation, and thus with its operating license as well.
“You’ve got to start with the right aircraft and that’s where I think we’ve got a leg up,” said Roger Scheer, Bonanza president and retired major general in the U.S. Air Force.
Bonanza plans to use the CV580A, a 50-seat, twin-jet-propeller plane. They were first manufactured in the 1950s and over the years have earned the nickname “Mountain Master” for their performance at higher altitudes.
The low cost of updated and overhauled CV580As – at about $3 million each – will allow Bonanza to start up at a fraction of the cost other start-up airlines in the Aspen area have incurred, board members said.
The BAe 146 – the jet United Airlines services Aspen with – costs $25 million, or about $321,000 per seat, whereas the CV580A will cost about $60,000 per seat, Scheer said.
“That’s what will allow us to break even, even on a 25-percent load factor,” Scheer said. “Most airlines can’t do that.”
In a written business prospectus, Bonanza’s average one-way fare (for its first year of operation) was listed as $135. “This is going to be a low-fare, first-class airline,” Scheer said. Board members stressed that Bonanza will not be a “cheap fare” airline, though all in-flight beverages will be complimentary.
Board members listed several tenants of their “operational philosophy,” including “do not overbook,” “baggage must travel with passenger,” “truthful information to passenger,” and “first-class service.”
“We want to be perceived as your utility for the Western Slope,” Scheer said. “This is our place of business and our only place of business.”
Brown welcomed Addoms to the luncheon and said he looked forward to working with him and Frontier in the near future. It’s no coincidence that Frontier serves DIA, Las Vegas and Albuquerque.
Brown further alluded that a future Bonanza-Frontier partnership might include a code-sharing agreement and one that would stipulate that Frontier handle all bookings for Bonanza.
Addoms warned Bonanza board members that they are up against one of America’s most formidable competitors in United Airlines and its frequent-flyer program. For success, he said Bonanza will need to launch a large-scale marketing campaign well before its first flight ever departs.
“The reason I came up is that we think competition is key,” Addoms said. “I applaud what you’re doing … you have something that can indeed work, but that precommitment process will be fundamentally important.”
“Once you’re certified and up and operating, we can sit down and talk with you,” Addoms said, withholding any definitive commitment.
Speaking on the behalf of the board, Brown admitted “that we really haven’t been at this very long,” and said more details concerning start-up dates and routes will be forthcoming after the board meets again in two to three weeks.
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With COVID-19 health and safety practices in place, who is up for a road trip to see the Denver Art Museum’s hotly anticipated exhibition on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera?