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Frontier Airlines to announce return to Delaware

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Frontier Airlines will apparently be restarting service out of New Castle Airport, according to the governor’s office. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA

NEW CASTLE ““ Frontier Airlines will announce the return of commercial flights from New Castle Airport this spring at a press event scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28, according to Gov. John Carney’s published schedule for next week.

The Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the airport under a long-term $1 per year lease with New Castle County, invited media and “friends of Delaware Aviation” to an event to “announce the restoration of major commercial airline service to Delaware, beginning this spring,” but did not identify the carrier.

The Delaware Business Times published articles in mid-September about efforts to recapture passenger flights for the airport after Denver-based Frontier quietly ended service in late June 2015. DBT also published a story in early October about New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer’s creation of a 12-person task force chaired by former Delaware Economic Development Director Alan Levin to study the future of the airport in advance of the county’s June 2020 deadline for renewing, renegotiating, or canceling the agreement with DRBA.

In 2015, then-Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner told local media that, “Frontier has pulled out of [New Castle Airport] because it wasn’t a profitable operation. If market conditions change, we may look at it again in the future.” It’s unclear what has changed in the past five years that has convinced Frontier to restore service from Delaware, as it continues to operate out of nearby Philadelphia International Airport (code: PHL) and Trenton-Mercer Airport (TTN) in New Jersey.

Frontier announced a massive network expansion last month that did not include the Delaware airport, but reported 25 new routes beginning in 2020. Several of those planned expansions would come out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) while also opening a new hub at Miami International Airport (MIA) and restarting service to Central America. It also is adding new destinations in the Caribbean while preparing for an influx of more than 150 new Airbus planes.

The low-cost carrier also has a reputation for entering and exiting markets quickly, especially those removed from metropolitan centers. Just this month, the airline informed regional airports in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama, that it was ceasing flights, while concurrently adding flights in Huntsville, Alabama.

Much like in Delaware, officials in Mobile lamented the loss of Frontier, it’s only commercial airline, adding that “planes were full” and they were disappointed but understanding about the carrier’s focus on larger markets.

It was July 1, 2013, when Frontier Airlines began its nonstop service out of New Castle Airport, which it referred to as Wilmington/Philadelphia New Castle Airport (ILG). Before its closure, the airline had made nonstop runs to Chicago-Midway, Denver, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Myers, Florida, but normally ran only two flights per day out of the New Castle Airport.

As of Saturday, Frontier’s booking website did not list flights out of the New Castle Airport.

Frontier’s departure left Delaware as the only state in the country without regularly scheduled passenger airline service. It was the seventh airline to make an attempt at commercial service out of Delaware only to fall by the wayside.

“The biggest question is what is Frontier going to do differently this time than five years ago,” Levin, who was director of the state’s economic development agency when Frontier last flew out of Delaware, told Delaware Business Times. “A lot of people were left stranded when they suddenly pulled out. There were a lot of upset people and we had to field a lot of the calls.”

Levin said his group has been tasked by Meyer with looking at options for ensuring that the airport can be a regional aviation center, given its proximity to the New York and Washington, D.C., markets; the presence of companies like Flight Safety International and FLYGateway; and Del Tech’s airframe and powerplant training facility in Georgetown, which graduates 50 students a year who could be hired at an expanded airport.

“Our work is going to continue,” Levin said. “Our role is not to look at Frontier and say it’s a game-changer.  It’s another string on the bow and I hope that the scenario this time will be different.”

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

By Peter Osborne


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