Southwest bid for Frontier could have Aspen impacts
ASPEN – Aspen resort officials paid close attention this week when Southwest Airlines stepped forward with a bid to acquire Frontier Airlines – a move that could greatly impact travel into Aspen, one way or another.”It’s something we’re watching with great interest, that’s for sure,” said Bill Tomcich, president of reservation agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airline industry.Frontier began serving Aspen and other regional markets in April 2008 through its subsidiary, Lynx Aviation. The new service brought head-to-head competition with United Airlines on the Aspen-Denver route, but both airlines have found service to Aspen profitable, according to Tomcich.Frontier ultimately pulled its Lynx service out of various markets, including Steamboat Springs and Jackson Hole, Wyo., and it announced in June that it would end service to Grand Junction in September, but it has maintained its Aspen connections.And despite the competition, strong business from the Aspen market has spurred United to bump its service to the resort this winter, according to Tomcich.United will add a third daily nonstop flight between Aspen and Chicago this winter, and increase its Aspen-San Francisco service from last winter’s three days, centered around weekends, to daily service this winter, Tomcich said. The airline will also offer an average of 11 daily connections between Aspen and Denver this winter.Frontier, through Lynx, is currently flying five daily flights between Aspen and Denver. That will drop off to three daily flights during the fall offseason before bumping back up to four daily flights for the winter, according to Tomcich.Frontier’s Aspen service is offered on the Q400 turboprop – an aircraft that may or may not have a future in Southwest Airlines’ plans.”If this offer goes through and Frontier gets absorbed by Southwest Airlines, really what the plans are for Lynx and the Q400 is going to determine whether it’s good or bad for Aspen,” Tomcich said.Southwest’s business model to date is to fly strictly 737s into major markets, he noted. Aspen could hardly be defined as a major market and its airport can’t accommodate a 737 jet.An online Q&A with Southwest Executive Vice President Ron Ricks, at southwest.com, indicates the airline hasn’t figured out what it would do with the Lynx routes if the takeover occurs.”As part of our overall due diligence, Southwest Airlines will study Lynx. Until a bid is finalized, it’s too early to say,” said Ricks on the website.According to Ricks, Southwest “is interested in a substantial investment in Frontier and to operate Frontier as a wholly-owned subsidiary, independently and separately from Southwest Airlines, for a period of time until the carrier could be combined into Southwest.”If Southwest maintains the Lynx service to Aspen, the benefits to Aspen would be “incredible,” said Tomcich, as the carrier’s operations are far more expansive than Frontier’s.On the other hand, losing the Lynx service and the resulting loss of airline competition would be detrimental for the Aspen market, he said.”The introduction of Frontier Airlines into our market has had some welcome benefits,” Tomcich said.Dallas-based Southwest offered $113.6 million for Frontier on Thursday, according to The Associated Press. The Denver-based Frontier is operating under bankruptcy protection and a court had already approved the sale of Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc. to the parent of Republic Airways for $108.8 million, but the deal can be nixed if a better offer comes along, the AP reported.How it all shakes out for Aspen isn’t something that will be determined in the near future, Tomcich predicted.”It’s really long term, what this is going to mean,” he email@example.com
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