Frontier Airlines scaling back Newport News service [Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)]By Jon Cawley, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Dec. 27--NEWPORT NEWS -- Frontier airlines' much-touted daily non-stop service between Newport News and Denver will be cut in the spring to three days per week, according to Peninsula airport officials.
Frontier launched its direct service between Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport and Denver International Airport in 2010 with twice-weekly flights and expanded to a daily operation in May. Newport News airport officials have said the flights were popular with most during the summer months arriving and departing the Peninsula at capacity.
Jessica Wharton, a Newport News airport spokeswoman, said Frontier's parent company -- Republic Airlines -- has decided to redeploy smaller aircraft in its fleet to support its "sub service" of other airlines, and that has resulted in a shortage of available planes.
The overall fleet size has shrunk and that makes it harder for Frontier to serve all of the markets in its system, she said.
"It's difficult for them to do a daily service from here because they're being scaled back," Wharton said. "There is not anything we can do about it."
Kate O'Malley, a Frontier spokeswoman, confirmed the airline will change its service May 1, "to a level that makes economic sense and that can be supported by available aircraft time."
O'Malley said the revised schedule will run through Labor Day and will be subject to review beyond that.
"We know it is a strong summer performer," she said, of the Newport News service. "We consistently look at all routes' performance to make sure we're going to places that perform well and adjust the service as the economy demands."
Wharton said ridership on winter-time flights varies from full to 53 to 60 on board. "It's hard for them to make money," she said, of Frontier.
Ken Spirito, the airport's executive director, added that Republic has been trying to sell Frontier for over a year and removing many of the airline's aircraft could make the carrier more desirable to potential buyers.
"During summer months, the Frontier service is extremely profitable," Spirito said. "We're losing four flights per week. Obviously, we want to keep daily flights, but that's not possible."
Spirito said he believes a fourth day of weekly flights could be added for the summer travel season.
"We'll have to wait and see," Wharton said. "They could be purchased, and then we'll look and see what we can do to get six days a week back."
Spirito said efforts remain to lure a new carrier to Newport News to backfill flights lost with the departure last spring of AirTran Airways, which was the Peninsula's most popular air service and comprised about half of the airport's flights.
Spirito said he did not anticipate further financial impacts to the airport, which drew down its budget in the wake of the AirTran departure. The current budget model is based on zero increase in business, he said.
"We've made our adjustments and will continue at that level until we get new service," Spirito said.
November passenger statistics for Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport show a 37.4 percent drop in ridership to 51,328 over the same month last year. But that is actually an improvement over recent months when the passenger loss hovered around 50 percent compared to 2011.
Wharton attributed the recent uptick to holiday bookings.
Comparatively, Norfolk International Airport statistics show 271,309 passengers used the south Hampton Roads facility in November -- a 5.67 percent increase over last year. Additionally, Richmond International Airport reported 262,146 passengers in November -- a 0.45 percent drop from the same month last year.
According to monthly figures kept by Wharton, the region from Richmond to Norfolk has lost nearly 300,000 air passengers since AirTran departed Newport News in March.
(c)2012 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
Visit the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) at www.dailypress.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services