ROUTES: Frontier eyes further international expansion

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Frontier Airlines is eyeing further expansion of its international network beyond its current services to Mexico and Costa Rica.

The low-cost carrier recently selected Liberia as its second destination in Costa Rica and Ixtapa as its sixth destination in Mexico. Frontier vice president strategy and planning Daniel Shurz says the Denver-based carrier will not add any other destinations for winter 2010/2011, but is now starting to look at destinations for next year.

Routes currently under evaluation include Denver to Belize, Roatan in Honduras, Grand Cayman and Montego Bay.

Shurz says Frontier sees unique opportunities for increasing its international network from the central and western USA because it is the only low-cost carrier in the western US which operates overseas. "We're in an interesting position because there's less low-cost carrier presence west of the Mississippi," Shurz tells ATI. "There's Allegiant, which doesn't fly across the US border, there's Southwest, which doesn't fly across the US border, and there's us."

Three other US low-cost carriers - Spirit Airlines, JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways - only operate international routes from the east coast. Frontier will link Denver with all eight of its winter 2010/2011 international destinations - Costa Rica's San Jose and Liberia, as well as Cancun, Cozumel, Ixtapa, Los Cabos, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Several of the Mexican destinations will also be served from Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Salt Lake City and St Louis.

"Cancun is obviously our largest international leisure market within Airbus narrowbody range," Shurz says.

Once Frontier spools up its Mexico service seasonally and during peak days this winter it will operate over 20 flights to Mexico. Typically it starts international routes including Liberia - which launches in February - with one weekly frequency.

"We try things and start a frequency level we're comfortable with," Shurz says. "We've gone into a lot of markets once a week and lot of markets we'll stay once a week."

Frontier is now evaluating further expansion of its Mexican network. Several US carriers have added capacity on Mexican routes since Mexicana ceased operations in August. Other Mexican carriers are not able to fill this void because Mexico was downgraded by the FAA in July to Category 2 under its international aviation safety assessment programme.

"Mexicana's bankruptcy and the change in the FAA regulatory situation certainly for our competitors has led to renewed interest in Mexico," Shurz says.

Mexicana, for example, was the only carrier serving the Denver-Mexico City market. Frontier has never served Mexico City although it previously served Guadalajara and Acapulco.

In evaluating new potential routes, Frontier is focusing on leisure markets within the range of its Airbus A319s. Hawaii is too far away and in the Caribbean, only the western islands such as the Caymans and Jamaica are within range. "We may make a bet on one or two of those Caribbean markets," Shurz says.

Frontier's longest route is Denver-Fairbanks, which it served this summer for the first time and was highly successful. "Fairbanks has been a very good market for us and we've been very pleased with our performance there," Shurz says.

Frontier is the first low-cost carrier in Fairbanks, a market that traditionally has only been served by Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines.