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Frontier to leave Wilmington airport – again

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New Castle County Airport

Frontier Airlines will leave service from Delaware once again on June 6, the company announced. | PHOTO COURTESY OF FRONTIER AIRLINES

NEW CASTLE – Less than two years after returning to Delaware commercial air service, Frontier Airlines has reportedly decided to end its service out of Wilmington-New Castle Airport next month, according to officials.

The news announced Friday by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, the bi-state agency that manages the airport, means that the First State will again become the only state in the U.S. without commercial passenger air service.

In a statement, the DRBA said it was “disappointed with the decision of Frontier Airlines ownership and management to discontinue scheduled service at Wilmington Airport – ILG prior to the busy summer season.”

Less than two years after cutting a ribbon on air service from Wilmington, Frontier Airlines, is once again leaving Delaware, citing insufficient demand. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The decision to end its three-times-a-week service to Orlando comes only 15 months after service resumed following a splashy announcement just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. At the February 2021 launch, a company executive told Delaware Business Times that the airline was encouraged by the return of domestic leisure travel, a key target demographic for the low-cost carrier.

“The demand is still out there,” said Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of commercial operations for Frontier. “We have the right customer mix and the lowest cost in the U.S. industry, so we think we’re going to recover faster than the industry on the whole.”

In November, Frontier reported that it had surpassed 10,000 commercial flights out of the Wilmington airport, including a monthly high of more than 16,000 passengers in July. While that led the airport to be upgraded to a Primary Commercial Service Airport, entitling it to more federal funding, it apparently was not enough for Frontier.

“We are very appreciative of the support we have received from the community and our airport partner at Wilmington-New Castle. Unfortunately, sufficient demand did not materialize to support the service and the final flight between Wilmington and Orlando is scheduled on June 6, 2022. We are continually evaluating our routes and ILG will certainly remain in the consideration set for potential service in the future,” a company spokesperson told DBT on Friday.

It was July 1, 2013, when Frontier Airlines began its nonstop service out of New Castle Airport the first time. Before its closure in 2015, the airline had made nonstop runs to Chicago-Midway, Denver, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Myers, Fla., but normally ran only two flights per day. It was the seventh airline to try commercial service out of Delaware only to fall by the wayside.

Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of commercial operations for Frontier, had said that the airline was encouraged that domestic leisure travel has fared comparatively well through the pandemic. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

In 2020, Shurz said Frontier’s decision to return to the market included its passenger growth in the Philadelphia market; a 20% decrease in costs since 2015; and data that indicates a strong customer base in Delaware based on its passengers’ residential zip codes. He added that Frontier was “here to stay,” and that its return to Delaware “was not a test.”

Those thoughts came before the pandemic upended travel, both for leisure and business, from which the industry is only now recovering. It also came before Frontier announced in February that it reached a nearly $3 billion merger deal with low-budget competitor Spirit Airlines.

The merger would create a giant in the low-budget airfare market, combining Colorado-based Frontier and Florida-based Spirit and creating the fifth largest airline by market share, company officials said. They intend to compete against the U.S. airline industry’s Big Four – Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Spirit currently ranks tied for fifth, while Frontier ranks ninth for market share, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The companies said that all employees of the company would be retained through the merger, but it’s likely that executives are combing through performance metrics for every market as part of its due diligence process.

The DRBA hopes that “as [Frontier] rationalizes current and future resources in anticipation of its proposed merger, the airline will choose to strategically restore service to Delaware.”

Should Frontier not decide to return service for a third time though, the DRBA is prepared to secure new commercial service from another provider, officials said.

“The management and staff of the DRBA continue to believe that scheduled commercial air service can and will succeed at Wilmington Airport – ILG. The airport’s excellent location along the busy I-95 corridor, along with the lowest cost operating environment of any airport in the US, offers customers the opportunity to forego the stress and expense of a big city airport,” DRBA said in a statement.

It noted, however, that “air service is only one aspect of the airport’s overall role and value to the community,” as the airport is also home to corporate aviation, advanced flight training, certain non-aviation businesses, as well as the Delaware Air National Guard. It is also the airport that President Joe Biden frequently flies from in his trips home.

“We will continue to promote the many benefits of Wilmington Airport to those airlines who value both low-costs, and an uncongested air traffic and passenger operating experience,” DRBA said.

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