Frontier may be airline solution

Weeks and months are slipping by, and we’re not hearing any further news regarding the Colorado Springs Airport — in particular, the quest for more air service to and from this market.

Back in June, we were told positive news was imminent. Alaska Airlines did announce plans for a daily nonstop to Seattle starting in November, but nothing has come of speculation that existing airlines serving Colorado Springs would add (or revive) flights to different destinations.

If that business model worked for Spirit, why not again for Frontier?

If there were no airline news happening anywhere, we might feel more patient. But plenty is happening, and it could affect us.

Most significantly, many industry sources are reporting that Frontier Airlines — which caused most of the local angst earlier this year by dropping its Colorado Springs service to Denver and elsewhere — appears close to having new ownership, which would buy Frontier from parent company Republic Airways Holdings. A nonbinding offer sheet was agreed to last month.

The headline is that Frontier’s likely new owners, the Indigo Partners private-equity company of Phoenix, are the same group who took over Spirit Airlines in 2006 and turned it into a bargain-basement success story.

If that business model worked for Spirit, why not again for Frontier? And if Frontier’s battle plan could include Colorado Springs, even if only a handful of connector flights to Denver at first, the impact could be huge. Lower fares on competitive routes could be available again to travelers flying in and out of here.

If fares really did improve, business and leisure customers would respond. Those ad campaigns about comparing costs between using our airport and driving up to Denver suddenly would make sense.

But in this period of limbo, all is not perfect with Frontier.

There has been good news from the airline, adding service as of July 1 to Wilmington, Del. (closer to Philadelphia than we are to Denver, about 45 miles, and also just an hour from Baltimore) with hardly any empty seats on 14 flights a week to a handful of other cities, including Orlando and Denver.

Then again, Frontier shut down its service between Denver and South Bend, Ind., in an abrupt fashion. (Sound familiar?) Those flights reportedly were doing well, and giving customers a better option than driving two hours to Chicago or Indianapolis.

Could Frontier return? Colorado Springs still would have to make its best pitch. Reports suggest Frontier’s sale should happen in September. News could happen quickly after that.

Yes, a newfangled Frontier could mean very low base fares, plus fees for everything from soft drinks to carry-on bags. Still, much cheaper overall.

We have wondered if our resident Colorado billionaire, Philip Anschutz, might attempt to buy Frontier, and whispers suggested he was considering it. But the only rumor with staying power appears to be the one involving Indigo with the Spirit game plan.

What it could mean: As of this week, Spirit was offering round-trip fares between Denver and Chicago for less than $140, and about $300 for Denver-Baltimore. But you couldn’t find anything under $400 for Colorado Springs-Chicago, $503 for COS-Washington.

At this point, for our city, it’s all about convincing another airline to make a commitment. Unless more secrets are out there, Frontier looks like the best option.