Airports Line up to Join in Frontier's Expansion

When Frontier was a startup airline about 12 years ago, working its way into a new airport was almost impossible.

"Nobody wanted to talk to us," said Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas.

Even five years ago, "airports that were aggressively trying to get us were airports that couldn't get anyone to fly there," said Frontier director of planning Joe Cambron.

Now airport officials are knocking on Frontier's door, particularly since the Denver-based airline announced that in May it will start flying new 74-seat Q400 turboprop planes to locations throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

"Every whistle-stop, every speed trap within 500 miles has a plan to descend on Frontier to tell them how great their service would be," said Evergreen aviation consultant Mike Boyd.

Steamboat Springs is very interested in getting Frontier flights next year, said Steamboat vice president of marketing Andy Wirth.

"Our entire community is excited," Wirth said.

So are Grand Junction's Walker Field Airport manager Rex Tippetts and Vail-Eagle County Airport manager Ovid Seifers.

Durango is trumpeting the increased demand for air travel because of a growing oil-and-gas industry and an increasing number of second-home buyers, said Durango-La Plata County Airport spokesman Don Brockus.

"We'd certainly welcome (Frontier) here," Brockus said. "There are a lot of airline consumers down here rooting for Frontier on this and hoping they'll come to Durango."

Even Aspen has joined the competition. Aspen/Snowmass president Bill Tomcich said the community has been working to make sure it is on Frontier's list.

Sioux Falls, S.D., has been courting Frontier for some time and hopes its chances improve with the new Q400 service. Desire alone doesn't necessarily translate to new flights, however.

"A lot of these smaller communities say they want increased air service," said Tom Nunn, who is heading up Frontier's new Lynx subsidiary, which will operate the Q400 flights.

"At the same time," he warned, "if the demand isn't there, if the economics aren't there to support it, no airline can stay."

Airports might offer incentives such as abatement of fees, including landing fees, terminal rents, free equipment or fuel rebates. They also might offer marketing money or do a revenue guarantee.

But airports are also limited by rules that require them to be fair in offering incentives to carriers across the board.

Frontier will start Q400 flights initially with nonmountain communities, Nunn said.

Although popular now, airline management still remembers what it was like to be snubbed.

"We meet with most of the airports that ask us to meet with them," Hodas said.

"You never know what good idea might be lurking around the corner," he said. "The only limitations would be, can the airport handle (the aircraft), and is there a decent reason to consider flying there?"

"It's real exciting for smaller communities that sort of get shut out from the Southwests and JetBlues and AirTrans," said aviation consultant Mark Sixel, who works on air-service development for the Sioux Falls and Fargo, N.D., airports, which are interested in Frontier service. "And here comes Frontier, a low-cost carrier."

Locations within 500 miles and with enough passenger traffic to keep a 74-seat plane filled will have an advantage, said Evergreen aviation consultant Mike Boyd, adding that Cortez and Laramie, Wyo., are "probably out of the running."

For those in the running, the competition is intense. Sioux Falls Regional Airport executive director Mike Marnach said, "The new model today, especially at our size airport, is you need to do more with the airline to make sure they're successful."

"We almost bend over backward to make sure the airline is as happy as can be," Marnach said. "I'm concerned that in the future, the airport will have to pay the airlines to get service."

Frontier is considering all offers, even short flights to places such as Colorado Springs.

In addition to new routes, Frontier might also add flights onto existing routes where it flies its larger Airbus jets or regional jets, Hodas said.

Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi can be reached at 303-954-1488 or . ------------- How Frontier

makes the call

When Frontier Airlines selects new routes, it weighs the following factors, according to director of planning Joe Cambron:

Existing passenger traffic: The number of people going in and out of a location is affected by factors such as tourism, business travel, proximity to large cities and proximity to other airports.

Level of competition: Airlines look at other airlines' routes and frequency of flights. Government data show how many passengers are carried by competitors.

Existing fares: "We prefer to go into markets where the competitors are fleecing the customers," Cambron said. "That gives us an opportunity to be Robin Hood."

Capability of airport: How much space is available? How far away is the city relative to the airplane's capabilities?

Economic incentives, tiebreakers: ``We don't want to be in a market that has no real financial viability.''