Steamboat Springs Frontier Airlines' expansion plans could mean another carrier at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
The Denver-based airline announced last week that it would purchase 10 new 74-passenger turbo-prop planes to launch regional Denver-based service to as many as 18 destinations in the "underserved markets and the Rocky Mountain Region," according to a Frontier news release. The company will offer flights on the Bombardier Q400 aircraft starting in May, and all 10 should be in service by December 2007.
The move means low-cost air carrier service could reach a number of mountain resort destinations with connecting flights in Denver to 57 destinations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
"With this move, all they're doing is trying to get additional revenues through Denver and compete with Southwest," said Mike Boyd, an aviation analyst with The Boyd Group out of Evergreen.
Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said Wednesday that ticket sales for new flights are still months away, and, in order to keep a competitive edge, the airline does not yet want to announce destinations. "If you were to draw a 650-mile radius around Denver, these are the communities that we are considering," he said.
Steamboat Springs is about 160 miles northwest of Denver. United is the only carrier that provides daily, year-round service into Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Frontier's new planes are built to handle high-altitude mountain flying and are more comfortable than typical propeller planes. Boyd said people prefer to travel in jets, and air travelers do not want to be on a propeller plane for a 650-mile flight that takes 2 1/2 hours. Boyd thinks Frontier might decide to decrease the 650-mile radius.
"I would say 400 miles is more what you're looking at," Boyd said.
Many mountain towns could be considered by Frontier, but Boyd said Frontier will look for communities that can provide passengers year-round.
Destinations such as Aspen, Eagle, Durango and Jackson Hole, Wyo., are established year-round destinations, Boyd said, and they would be attractive destinations for an airline like Frontier.
"Aspen is in the cards for sure," Boyd said. "I don't think Yampa Valley is there yet."
When asked whether Yampa Valley Regional Airport was being considered by Frontier, Hodas said, "Steamboat is a very popular destination, so certainly it would do well to have additional service."
Frontier is trying to compete with Southwest, which began flying from Denver last January. Adding regional service could also affect United. By bringing passengers into Denver on its regional service, Frontier's passengers could then connect to one of about 40 Frontier destinations, which United also serves.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said future service by Frontier would be a good option as the growth continues in the valley.
"It's good news for us in the long term to have that as a potential option," Ruppel said.
But the addition of Frontier service in 2007 could have positive and negative impacts.
"To me, competition is a good thing as far as the cost of tickets is concerned," Ruppel said. "The effect of having a carrier like (Frontier) is that it can be damaging to the other carriers that are already here."
In addition to out-of-state direct flights offered by Continental, Delta, American Airlines and Northwest out of YVRA, United Airlines currently has four daily flights between YVRA and Denver, which can hold 37 passengers each. During the ski season, United adds a daily 120-passenger 737-300 flight.
"From a historical perspective, it would be a nice thing to have service from Frontier," Ruppel said.
Frontier was one of YVRA's original commercial air carriers, Ruppel said. Frontier started service in 1966 and discontinued flights to YVRA in the mid-1980s.
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