Frontier Airlines Tuesday unveiled plans to expand its Colorado Springs nonstop route network by year's end to Washington, D.C., and six other cities in the biggest local air service expansion in more than 20 years.
The Denver-based low-fare carrier will begin these nonstop flights from Colorado Springs Airport:
- To San Francisco International Airport, three days a week starting June 11.
- To Los Angeles International Airport, four days a week, starting on June 12.
- To Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, seven days a week, starting June 12.
- To San Diego International Airport, seven days a week, starting July 10.
- To Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., seven days a week, starting July 10.
Frontier will add nonstop service in the fall to two more Florida destinations - Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers and Tampa International Airport.
All of the flights were announced as seasonal additions (through autumn) to Frontier's schedule - Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner said no end date has been set for the flights, but the carrier would monitor their performance.
Greg Phillips, aviation director of the Colorado Springs Airport, said the flights will be made a part of the carrier's yearround route system if they "perform well."
"We have done what we said we would do," Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said at a news conference announcing the new flights, referring to comments he made in April 2016 that the carrier would add flights as long as passengers booked them. "If the city and community support these flights, we will continue adding more."
Biffle said in April when Frontier returned to the Springs that the carrier wanted to operate nonstop flights to 15-20 destinations within three to five years, including cities in California and in the Central time zone.
The expansion is the airport's biggest since low-fare carrier Western Pacific Airlines (also known as WestPac, a now-defunct company) operated nonstop flights in the mid-1990s from its Colorado Springs hub to more than 20 cities.
Mayor John Suthers said the announcement made Tuesday "another very special day" for the airport and he looks forward to future announcements by Frontier and other airlines about additional flights and destinations. Since Frontier returned to the Springs in April, the number of nonstop destinations available from the airport has jumped from 10 to 17.
"It is a community effort to attract and retain air service. I encourage all of Southern Colorado to patronize our airport and airlines," Suthers said. "With the increase in air service and growth in the number of destinations, people don't need to drive to Denver. They can experience convenient flights, good customer service and low fares."
Dirk Draper, CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC, called the announcement "great news" that will expand the city's "network for commerce and capital, travel and tourism."
Biffle said passenger numbers at the Colorado Springs Airport could grow to the peak level reached during WestPac's peak in 1996, when more than 2.4 million passengers boarded departing flights, or nearly four times as many as boarded flights in 2015, the year before Frontier resumed service to the Springs.
"Colorado Springs had nonstop destinations similar to this and more. The traffic base was there, but Western Pacific was not profitable. Since then, the traffic base has grown and the economic base is much larger," Biffle said. "I believe traffic can grown back to the levels it reached 20 years ago, not just from Frontier but from all airlines."
With a local schedule that now includes 10 cities, Frontier now has more name recognition with travelers, Biffle said.
"We are now more top of mind and are getting to the point where we are driving awareness, and are at a tipping point where people think of Colorado Springs as a destination" to visit.
Biffle cautioned, however, that Frontier "can move an aircraft if the route is not successful. If people use it, we will stay."
Frontier is selling tickets to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington with a $29 one-way introductory fares that must be purchased by 9:59 p.m. Wednesday for travel between June 13 and Aug. 8. The fares are only available for travel on Tuesday and Wednesday and can't be used on July 4-5.
Frontier returned to the Springs after a three-year absence last April with a daily nonstop flight to Las Vegas and added flights in June to Phoenix and October to Orlando, Fla.
United Airlines halted nonstop daily service to its Dulles hub in September 2014 after four years and to San Francisco in January 2015 after 24 years. The carrier still operates daily flights to O'Hare and Los Angeles as well as Denver and Houston. Frontier halted nonstop flights to San Diego in February 2013, two months before halting all service to the Springs. No airline has offered flights from the Springs to either Fort Myers or Tampa.
Frontier's return helped bring passengers back to the local airport in a big way last year - the number leaving on departing flights jumped by the biggest percentage in 20 years. Passenger traffic rose 10.6 percent in 2016 to 649,190, the highest annual total since 2013 and the biggest percentage gain since WestPac's peak year in the Springs in 1996, when the airport's passenger numbers surged 70.6 percent to 2.42 million. Last year's increase followed three consecutive years of declines to the lowest annual total in 31 years during 2015.
Airport officials estimate Frontier's return will boost passenger numbers this year by 8 percent to nearly 800,000, the most since 2012, which assumes the flights will operate for six months. If the flights are made a permanent part of Frontier's schedule, the traffic increase for a full year would be twice as big.
Mike Boyd, an Evergreen-based aviation industry consultant who worked with the airport, El Pomar Foundation and a city task force to persuade Frontier to return to the Springs, said the new cities "fill most of the gaps" in the city's air service, though he added that flights to Boston and New York "would be nice." He said the new flights probably will draw passengers from the southern end of the Denver area, just as WestPac's bargain-basement fares did two decades ago.
"Colorado Springs is a complementary access to the entire region. You have dual access in the Springs and Denver to the entire Colorado corridor," Boyd said. "The big difference between what WestPac did and Frontier is doing is that Frontier is focusing on the very large metro areas, while Western Pacific served several smaller cities like Oklahoma City."
Todd Lehmacher, a Beulah-based aviation consultant who formerly worked for both Frontier and WestPac, said Frontier probably will be more successful in the Springs now than WestPac was 20 years ago because "WestPac never had critical mass that Frontier has with its size, aircraft fleet and reputation."
He expects other airlines in the Springs to match Frontier's inexpensive fares, but said passengers should book Frontier flights because "they are the reason for the low fares. The other airlines will match Frontier's fares because they have to, not because they want to. If you want low-fare service, you have to support the low-fare carrier."
Lehmacher expects other airlines serving the Springs to add flights in response to Frontier, and he speculated that low-fare giant Southwest Airlines might expand to Colorado Springs to protect the major operation it has established in Denver during the past 10 years.
Bill Hybl, CEO of El Pomar Foundation and chairman on the city's Air Service Task Force, said the additional Frontier flights meet the panel's goals of more flights to more destinations at lower fares on full-sized aircraft.
"The entire task force is pleased and enthusiastic about the Frontier announcement. A lot of people played a role in getting this service for all of Southern Colorado," he said.
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