Frontier’s new service is not clear for takeoff in Aspen
pitkin county correspondent
APEN ” Frontier Airlines’ plan to launch a new low-fare subsidiary this month was temporarily grounded because it hasn’t acquired all federal approvals, according to public records.
Frontier wanted to start marketing and selling tickets on May 25 for service to nine new markets through its Lynx Aviation branch, documents filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation show. Many airline industry observers believe Aspen will be one of those new markets.
Frontier acquired one key approval for Lynx Aviation from the transportation department on May 21, according to documents. The federal agency issued what is known as a certificate of public convenience and necessity. It essentially says the new service is needed and that Frontier is financially fit to deliver it.
But Frontier is still awaiting safety approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Until that approval is granted, Frontier cannot sell tickets for that new service. Frontier is seeking a waiver from the transportation department that would allow it to start marketing its subsidiary’s flights.
“Lynx seeks to avoid the problems often experienced by new entrant carriers initiating operations that sometimes start operations without having sold enough seats to be able to meet planned growth goals,” the airline’s request to the DOT says. “In order to begin operations with high load factors, Lynx wishes to begin advance ticket sales for its initial flights. This will improve Lynx’s initial financial performance and improve the long-term success of the carrier.”
The waiver request sought a DOT decision by May 24, but it is still pending. Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas acknowledged his company’s waiver request was a bit more “aggressive” than typically sought. Usually, the transportation department doesn’t grant a waiver to allow ticket sales to begin until 30 to 45 days before flights begin.
Frontier CEO Jeff Potter released a statement as part of the quarterly earnings report this month that said Frontier remains on track to serve at least four new mountain destinations and five nonmountain destinations from its Denver hub by the end of the year.
Hodas said the plan is to start service between Denver and at least some of the nonmountain destinations by September, and between Denver and the resort destinations in December.
Without approval to sell tickets, Frontier remains tight-lipped about the new markets Lynx Aviation will serve. Hodas said the company doesn’t want to tip its hand to competitors.
He stressed that he didn’t want Aspen residents to feel the airline was being “coy.” It just cannot be more specific about its plans right now for strategic reasons, he said.
The part of Lynx’s application that spelled out what markets it intends to serve and the economic justification for the decisions is confidential, and the transportation department did not release it.
Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen/Snowmass and the local business community’s liaison with airlines, said he would be surprised if Aspen didn’t make the cut. He expected Frontier’s announcement of a favorable decision this week.
“A lot of people are really anxious to hear what’s going on with Frontier,” he said. Some people have drawn unwarranted conclusions since no announcement has been made, according to Tomcich.
Tomcich and Jim Elwood, director of aviation at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, said Aspen makes a good case for itself. Passenger volume is high throughout the year, particularly during ski seasons.
Airport records show that 206,409 passengers boarded commercial flights in Aspen during 2006. About 73 percent of all available seats were filled.
About half of the annual passenger boardings occur from December through March. United Express has a stranglehold on the market, handling 83 percent of the passengers.
The Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft that Lynx plans to use for its operations are known for their low operational costs, Tomcich said. That combined with strong demand for tickets in Aspen could make the market too lucrative for Frontier to ignore, he said.
Hodas would only say that Frontier is well aware of Aspen’s national and international appeal.
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