Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Frontier sidesteps Sun Valley

Airline excludes Friedman service from expansion plan

Express Staff Writer

For now, Denver-based Frontier Airlines has decided to bypass Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey as it expands its air service to Rocky Mountain ski resorts.

The news came late last week, months after business and civic interests from Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey banded together to hire a marketing consultant and pledge an estimated $400,000 in marketing support services as an incentive for Frontier to extend one of its Denver routes to Friedman.

However, Frontier marketing director Pat Zachwaiega said the airline's decision was "not driven by incentive packages" from the valley and the other communities, but by whether a new route had the ability to sustain long-term success and growth.

He said Frontier would begin examining its winter route structure in 60 to 90 days, suggesting that Friedman Memorial would be under consideration again.

A disappointed Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, said the alliance of interests would resume its talks with Frontier.

"We're definitely on the list" of cities for future service, she said.

A route from Denver is considered crucial to the Wood River Valley's resort industry. Travelers from the East could feed through the Denver hub and connect to flights to Friedman.

In its announcement Feb. 14, Frontier said it would inaugurate new daily, nonstop service from Denver in April and May to Colorado Springs, Aspen-Pitkin County, Colo., Durango-La Plata County, Colo., and Grand Junction, Colo. Along with Sun Valley, several other airports, including Steamboat Springs and Vail/Eagle Valley, didn't make the new-service list.

The service will be handled by Republic Air and Lynx Aviation, Frontier subsidiaries, with new Canadian-made Bombardier Q400 turboprops, the type Horizon Air uses to serve Friedman from California, and the Embraer 170, a new Brazilian-made pure jet. Both aircraft have two engines and seat about 70 to 80 persons.

The Aspen Times quoted one industry analyst as saying the new Frontier/Lynx service there could cut airfares by half in competition with United Airlines, the sole air carrier there now.

Colorado was not the only beneficiary of the Frontier decision. Other cities designated for service are Fargo, N.D.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Missoula, Mont.; and Bozeman, Mont.

Service to Friedman is often unreliable during severe winter weather. The airport does not have an operating all-weather landing system, the surrounding terrain is considered risky during low ceilings and the field has been classified by the Federal Aviation Administration as out of compliance for larger airliners such as the Q400.

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