ANALYSIS: What is next for Frontier?

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Denver-based Frontier Airlines is taking its first steps in being rebranded as an ultra low-cost carrier, half a year after it was sold by former parent Republic Airways Holdings.

And if recent developments at the airline are anything to go by, it looks like Frontier is taking a leaf out of the book of Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air - two US low-cost carriers that have kept investors happy with solid financial results.

After being sold by Republic to Indigo Partners in late 2013, Frontier has made headlines in recent months with several high profile hires. Most noticeably, it appointed former Spirit chief marketing officer Barry Biffle as president. Biffle will join Frontier next month, departing Colombian low-cost carrier VivaColombia after less than a year in the chief executive role there.

Biffle had played a key role in the management team that took Spirit to where it is today, having worked at the airline for eight years.

Frontier followed the news of Biffle's appointment with announcements of hires from other high-profile low-cost carriers, such as the appointment of Ryanair treasurer James Dempsey as chief financial officer. Earlier this month, Frontier said veteran airline executive Bill Meehan will join as chief operating officer. Meehan previously worked for Continental Airlines for 27 years, and was at one point president and chief operating officer of Continental Micronesia.

Former Allegiant Air marketing and sales executive Tyri Squyres has also joined Frontier as vice president of marketing, relocating back to the USA from Spanish low-cost carrier Volotea Airlines.

Frontier did not immediately respond to questions regarding its near-term strategy, but the new faces on its management team and other developments indicate that it aims to place itself squarely in the ultra low-cost carrier segment occupied by Spirit and Allegiant.

In late April, Frontier started charging for carry-on bags and seat assignments, following in the footsteps of the two airlines. The new charges were the first visible changes affecting airline customers since its divestiture by Republic to Indigo.

"With an unbundled product, customers can save even more by choosing to pay for only the products that they want, allowing them to customise their flight experience for each and every flight,” said Frontier chief executive David Siegel in a media statement announcing the new fees.

Available seat kilometres at the carrier is expected to be up 14% in November, compared to the same month last year, shows data in Capstats. This comes as Frontier adds new flights to its network, in particular a big expansion at Washington Dulles and further growth at Cleveland.

Frontier route map, Nov 2013 vs Nov 2014

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Source: FlightMaps Analytics

Starting in August, Frontier will add Dulles to its route map and launch service on 14 routes from the airport. The airline already serves Washington National, where it operates non-stop to Denver.

Frontier will continue to expand at Cleveland, adding several markets later this year. It will start service to Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham and Tampa from tomorrow. In August, it will launch flights to Dallas/Fort Worth, followed by Las Vegas in September.

With the new flights, Frontier will operate to 14 destinations non-stop from Cleveland. Earlier this month, it began service to Orlando from Cleveland and began seasonal service to Seattle.

Frontier's growth at Cleveland comes as United Airlines dismantled its Cleveland hub earlier this month, ending non-stop service to 41 destinations before then.

Aside from Washington, DC, and Cleveland, Frontier continues to expand at its home base in Denver as well as Trenton in New Jersey. Starting in May, it began flights on four new markets from Denver: Bakersfield (California), Missoula (Montana), Idaho Falls and Sioux City (Iowa).

At Trenton, Frontier is opening a cabin crew base this month — its first for flight attendants on the US east coast. Frontier has been steadily adding new flights at Trenton, and will operate to 17 destinations from the New Jersey airport. Frontier is the only scheduled airline serving Trenton.

Whether Frontier will be as financially successful as Spirit and Allegiant remains to be seen. Spirit's chief executive Ben Baldanza seems to believe that there is enough space in the US market for three ultra low-cost carriers for now.

Asked about Frontier as a competitive threat, Baldanza said in April that Frontier is "in a different place". "We see this market as very, very large... by the end of the decade, we'll account for less than 5% of the traffic in the United States," said Baldanza. "We think Frontier still has some work they've got to do before they can truly be competitive with Spirit. And we've got a lot of growth ahead of us."