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Frontier Airlines IPO raises $266M

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Frontier Airlines, Delaware River & Bay Authority, and local tourism officials cut a ribbon on the new air service in February. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEW CASTLE – Frontier Airlines, the discount airline that restarted Delaware’s only passenger service out of New Castle Airport in February, finalized its initial public offering Thursday, raising $266 million in its market entry.

The 27-year-old, Denver-based Frontier was owned by private equity firm Indigo Partners, which specializes in budget airlines around the world, before the IPO. It reported Thursday that it closed the IPO at a price point of $19 per share, slightly lower than a previous target of $21, selling 15 million shares of its offering.

Indigo also sold 15 million shares in the deal, recouping on its nearly decade-long investment, and has the option to sell another 4.5 million to underwriters.

Citigroup, Barclays, Deutsche Bank Securities, Morgan Stanley and Evercore ISI acted as lead bookrunners for the proposed offering. BofA Securities, J.P. Morgan, Nomura, UBS Investment Bank, Cowen and Raymond James acted as additional bookrunners for the proposed offering.

After its first day of trading on the Nasdaq Global Market under the designation ULCC – a nod to its mantra as an “ultra-low-cost carrier” rather than a previously proposed FRNT – Frontier closed slightly lower than its IPO price at $18.85 ahead of the three-day holiday weekend. Nonetheless, it represents a $4 billion market capitalization.

In a registration filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the airline reported that it believes its worst days of the pandemic are behind them.

 “We believe the restrictions and health concerns that have depressed demand during the pandemic are also likely to lead to increased levels of pent-up demand for leisure travel once the effects of the pandemic decrease. As a result, we expect to see a significant recovery in our performance as the U.S. market recovers,” the company wrote in the S-1 filing.

Like all airlines, Frontier has been battered by a precipitous fall in air passenger travel through the pandemic, as interstate and international quarantines discouraged travel. Most companies canceled in-person events and meetings out of caution and leisure travel was severely hampered by public health restrictions.

According to federal transportation data, Frontier saw about 68.5% of its seats filled through the first 10 months of 2020, compared to an annual total of nearly 89% in 2019. The airline flew about 73,300 flights through October of last year, or roughly 35% fewer than the first 10 months of 2019 when it flew about 113,300.

In February, however, Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of commercial operations for Frontier, told Delaware Business Times that the airline was encouraged that domestic leisure travel – which represents nearly all of its passengers – has fared comparatively well through the pandemic compared to international or business travel. With vaccinations increasing nationwide and people more comfortable with mask-wearing protocols, Shurz said that Frontier expected to return to 2019 capacity levels as early as March.

“We have worked diligently to navigate such challenges by implementing disciplined capacity deployment and taking steps to protect liquidity and cash flow and towards being an industry leader with respect to the implementation of new health and safety initiatives. Due to such efforts, we believe we are well positioned to take advantage of the anticipated demand recovery as vaccine distribution continues,” the company wrote in its IPO filing.

The IPO filing comes less than a year after it dropped a previous bid in July 2020, having explored taking the company public for more than three years. The latest bid came after a smaller regional carrier, Sun Country, raised $218 million in its own IPO in March.

Frontier ended 2020 with a $225 million loss on $1.25 billion in sales, a considerable decline from 2019 when it reported a net of $251 million on $2.5 billion in sales. It reported sustaining a nearly $2 million-a-day cash burn through 2020 due to the pandemic’s impact.

As of Dec. 31, it had a fleet of 104 Airbus A320 planes, and a commitment to purchase 156 A320neo planes by the end of 2028. Frontier has served approximately 23 million and 11 million passengers, in 2019 and 2020, respectively, across a network of about 110 airports.

Frontier’s focus on low-cost fares is supported by company cost savings and efficiency efforts, reducing its cost per air mile traveled by passengers by 30% between 2013 and 2019. Those costs crept back up last year as the number of passenger air miles fell.

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