Frontier Airlines will stop flying to Billings on Jan. 23, 2013, despite an 18 percent jump in its boardings out of Billings Logan International Airport this year over last.
"They had to reduce a market, and Billings was it," said Tom Binford, director of Aviation and Transit for Billings Logan International Airport. "Bozeman had better winter numbers.”
Frontier now flies two 99-seat Embraer E-190s planes per day to Billings.
Gallatin Yellowstone International Airport director Brian Sprenger said he heard about the decision favoring Bozeman late last week.
“We’re probably in the dark as much as anyone else,” he said. “All we know is going into the winter season, we have a number of winter sports and skiing over here that is a little different than the Billings market.”
A plus for Billings is that Horizon Air has increased its service to Portland, Ore., until it is nearly year-round now, Sprenger said.
Airlines watch each other closely, and air service can be one step forward and two steps back, he said.
“It’s not uncommon to get a piece of good news from one airline and another says, 'That might be too much service for that market,' and back off,” Sprenger said.
Frontier spokeswoman Lindsey Carpenter in Denver said, “We constantly evaluate our markets based on performance and have determined that our service out of Billings does not fit into our current business plan.”
After Frontier leaves in 10 weeks, Billings will continue to be served by United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which both fly to Denver, where Frontier is based; Horizon; Allegiant, a low-cost Las Vegas airline that offers occasional flights to resort cities; and Silver Airways, which provides Essential Air Service flights to seven Eastern Montana cities.
On Aug. 31, Silver ended a three-month trial flight from Billings to Helena and Allegiant stopped flying direct from Billings to Los Angeles.
“The decision came as a surprise,” Binford said, “because the Billings airport saw an almost 7 percent increase in boardings for all airlines year-over-year,” in addition to the 18 percent hike for Frontier for the same period.
The decision to drop Billings apparently stems from Frontier’s divorce from its parent company, Republic Airways Holdings Inc. of Indianapolis. Three years ago, Republic bought Frontier in a bankruptcy court. Two years ago, Republic decided to sell Frontier and recently cut $120 million in operating costs, according to a Feb. 7 Wall Street Journal article.
Frontier had to reduce its fleet to separate from Republic, Binford said. Republic took five Frontier planes and dedicated them for flights to Las Vegas, he said.
“The key is the number of planes from this summer until now that Frontier has to serve smaller markets got reduced from 17 to about five,” Binford said.
He wants to study the Billings market again this winter.
“This industry is getting smaller and smaller,” Binford said, adding that Frontier apparently was hemmed in by other carriers.
“They couldn’t get their business fares up as high as they wanted in Billings due to competition.”