Frontier Airlines will cease operations at Durango-La Plata Airport in August, the latest chapter in the airline’s on-again, off-again commitment to serving DRO.
The airline will continue twice weekly service between Durango and Denver and Durango and Las Vegas through Aug. 7, according to news release from the city of Durango. After that, it will discontinue serving Durango.
Tony Vicari, director of aviation at DRO, said Frontier’s decision to end flight services is “disappointing” because it reduces options for flyers, but it accounts for only about 5%, or 2,585 passengers, of the airport’s annual traffic.
In 2021, DRO had record-breaking flight traffic with 397,293 total flight passengers who arrived or departed from the airport.
Vicari said there just wasn’t a strong market demand for Frontier’s air service. So, it has decided to allocate its resources into markets where there is more support for the airline.
“At the end of the day, our air services are 100% market-driven,” he said. “Nothing here is subsidized or underwritten in any kind of way that would prop up poor-performing service.”
Frontier initially left DRO in the late fall 2014 and didn’t return to service the airport until early June 2021, Vicari said.
Then, it offered twice-weekly flights between Durango and Las Vegas from June until March 5. The airline suddenly announced in February it was canceling the flight. At the time, much like now, Vicari said demand wasn’t robust enough to support the Las Vegas flights.
But the Durango-Las Vegas flights were reinstated on June 9. Nineteen days later, the airline announced it is pulling out of DRO.
He said Frontier is “an ultra low-cost carrier” with a “more nimble business model” than larger airlines such as American Airlines and United Airlines, which share the bulk of Durango’s flight traffic.
“And so you do see the ultra low-cost carriers, a la Frontier, make a lot more entries and exits in the market and quick decisions as they are sort of chasing the specific niche of the business model there,” he said.
While Frontier is much more likely to re-enter the DRO market on shorter notice than other, larger carriers, Vicari takes Frontier’s decision to fully exit the airport and shut down ground assets and staff member training as a sign the airline isn’t likely to resume services in the foreseeable future.
“I think, realistically, it’s going to be much more about a long-term, potentially multiyear-type play before they re-enter the market,” he said. “Never say never, because it’s a quickly evolving industry right now. There are a lot of weird changes in the world. But for now, I don’t envision any kind of imminent return.”
Vicari said staff members who handled ground work for Frontier at DRO have options to transition to other entities, including other airlines that service the airport. Ground work for Frontier is provided by Av Flight, a fixed entity at the airport that provides fueling and general aviation services in addition to other contract work.
He said airlines typically contract out to entities such as Av Flight for ground services.
“So in this case, they didn’t hire additional people to work those (Frontier) flights,” he said.
Vicari expects a number of staff members to remain with Av Flight in another capacity.
“Hopefully, it’s a soft landing for many of those individuals,” he said. “And for those that might not stick with Av Flight there’s other hiring opportunities with other entities here at the airport. So hopefully we’ll see them (spread) across the different employers here.”
Despite the airport’s disappointment in Frontier’s scheduled departure, Vicari said DRO still has “comparatively strong” air service through American and United airlines, which offer daily connections to Denver, Dallas and Phoenix.
“We remain pretty confident in our route network and that it’ll continue to strongly serve the community,” he said.
Passenger traffic at the airport has returned to pre-pandemic levels, matching 2019 numbers closely, Vicari said. He said DRO is in a “reasonably good” position considering other markets across the country are struggling, particularly airports where business and international flights are the primary reasons for travel, such as in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Continuing COVID-19 restrictions have affected international flight traffic while virtual business meetings have cut into the need for businesspeople to travel as frequently, he said. But, at least at DRO, business travel has had a “sharp uptick” this year and could continue to rise.