Frontier Airlines passengers in Denver would step on the tarmac to board aircraft under a new plan that commits the airline to DIA well into the next decade.
Denver International Airport has provided $ 317 million in additional bargaining for parallel projects that include a major project aimed at keeping its third-largest carrier happy, with room for maneuver. The DIA would spend $ 183 million to renovate and expand the existing landfill facility, which is used mostly by other airlines at the eastern end of Concours A.
Frontier, based in Denver, which now operates mostly of nine traditional A-sides with jet bridges, would have a private use and trademark for all 14 gates in the expanded ground-loading facility. Its move in early 2024 would open up more gates for other airlines, giving DIA more flexibility to shuffle side allocations.
While the move to a landfill would save Frontier money in the long run, management says the decision is more about efficiency.
The new gates would allow faster turnaround time between flights and shorten the time by almost half in some cases. This is because the airline could load and unload passengers at two aircraft doors simultaneously, through the back of the front which is accessible to people with disabilities and the stairs at the rear. Each gate would be able to handle more aircraft per day.
“Everyone who travels abroad … within Europe, you’ll see aboard the ground almost everywhere, even for the main planes,” said Jake Filene, Frontier’s Deputy Chief Customer Officer. “So for us, it’s a more efficient process and allows us to do what we’re all trying to do, which is to have our plane in the sky and not sit on the ground.
One disadvantage for passengers is the long journey between the new sides and the center of Concourse A, with connections to the DIA airport. They also become more exposed to the weather when they board.
But the proposal, submitted by the Denver City Council on Wednesday afternoon, answers a question that hangs in the air through other recent DIA side expansions: What about Frontier?
United and Southwest airlines closed all 39 new gates that will open at the end of the year as part of a $ 1.5 billion expansion at all three airports. United, which operates one of its largest affiliates at DIA, had the largest market share last year, or 44%, while Southwest came in second, with almost 32%.
Frontier, which had an 11% market share, holds DIA as its second largest station, after Orlando International Airport.
The local airline is in the midst of a planned merger with Spirit Airlines, a “low-cost” airline with mostly additional route systems serving the eastern United States and the Caribbean. But this deal was challenged this week with an unsolicited bid by JetBlue Airways to compete for the acquisition of Spirit.
Whatever happens, it’s unlikely to affect its new plans in Denver, Frontier said.
“This is a commitment to Denver,” said Filene. “This is a commitment to increasing capacity in Denver and a new passenger experience in Denver.
The pandemic disrupted long-term growth in DIA passenger traffic, but the latest figures for February exceeded the 2019 limit, said CEO Phil Washington. Due to the high interest of airlines in DIA, the airport – which is entirely supported by the revenue it generates – has spent billions of dollars on expansion projects. These include long-term improvements to the terminal that will not be implemented for at least five years.
George Karayiannakis, DIA’s deputy director of aviation, pointed out that typical airline leases are for three years, which makes Frontier’s 10-year contract a “very big deal”. It will take effect when the new facility is ready in two years.
“We expect this lease to last until 2034,” he told the committee.
Frontier’s new facilities, if approved by city council in the coming weeks, would be 120,000 square feet, expanding on two existing, low-rise wings extending east from the end of Concours A. An additional 37,000 square feet would stretch north. wing, which DIA built four years ago to provide nine temporary gates for United while construction was underway elsewhere.
The expanded facility would include support space and, between the side wings, a new 8,000-square-foot maintenance facility. A handful of airlines using some of the existing ground gates will soon move into new ground facilities as part of the Concourse C expansion.
To pay for most of the new project, DIA plans to issue bonds that are repaid with a $ 4.50 passenger fee for each ticket. Filene said the new Frontier rental plan, which keeps rates for each side flat instead of lowering them for the ground-loading gates, will also help cover the cost.
Frontier had leased 14 gates from DIA until it gave up six of them under a lease agreement in late 2015 that aimed to save money by merging DIA’s operations. Recently, when the airline and DIA assessed its needs, Frontier worked on a short-term lease.
The airline now serves about 80 destinations from Denver and says it needs additional capacity to grow.
“This agreement marks a new era for Frontier Airlines and Denver International Airport,” said President and CEO Barry Biffle in a statement from Frontier.
Other new projects proposed by DÍ
Documents submitted to the council’s committee ahead of Wednesday’s meeting include $ 317 million in contract changes with the main contractor responsible for its expansion plan for the deal. This plan, originally $ 1.5 billion, was expanded to $ 2.1 billion by 2020 to add custom for United and Southwest and renovate older halls.
DIA is changing the contracts again without new bids for a new project, although Stu Williams, deputy director of airport expansion, said subcontractors would do much of it.
“These contractors work as general contractors… (and) much of the work you will see here is being tendered through the community,” Williams told the committee.
In addition to the grounding expansion for the Frontier, other new components are proposed, including pavement rehabilitation for the apron area at some of the original gates and a new driveway to increase the capacity of the de-icing pad.
They also include about $ 50 million in insurance-covered repairs to the side extension at the east end of Gangbraut B, where a rupture of a hot water pipe in December caused extensive damage to an almost perfect addition. Additional management and engineering costs have raised the latest estimate to $ 58.3 million.