Denver-based Frontier Airlines has placed a firm order for 10 Bombardier Q400s, and options on 10 more, as part of a regional operations review that may also end the carrier’s 12-year relationship with Horizon Air.

Frontier’s fleet of turboprops will be operated in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region by an unnamed subsidiary under a new operating certificate, says the airline in a statement.

“The subsidiary expects to serve as many as 18 destinations using the new aircraft and to create 300 to 400 new jobs. Cities to be served have not yet been finalised,” adds Frontier.

Bombardier will start delivering the 74-seat one-class Q400s in May. The entire firm order will be operational by the end of 2007. Options, if exercised, will be delivered from March 2008.

“This aircraft purchase will enable our service to grow by giving Frontier access to regional leisure and business travel destinations that were previously inaccessible to us but are ideally suited for the economics of the Q400,” says Frontier president and chief executive Jeff Potter. “Our goal is to bring the Frontier experience to under-served markets using a comfortable, state-of-the-art new aircraft, and the Q400 is the perfect aircraft for that mission.”

“The Frontier brand name will be used for the new service, as it is with the airline’s regional service, Frontier JetExpress. The Q400 aircraft will be painted in the Frontier livery with the familiar animals on the tail of every aircraft,” notes the airline.

Under the new regional strategy JetExpress operations by Horizon Airlines may also be revised. “While we did approach our partners at Horizon about the Q400 operation, because they also operate Q400s, we concluded that we could drive this growth strategy more cost-effectively by purchasing and operating the aircraft under the Frontier Airlines umbrella,” says Potter.

“I am proud to say that Tom Nunn, Frontier’s current vice president of safety and security, will be leading this exciting new opportunity for us as president of the new subsidiary. In my opinion, with Tom’s tremendous integrity and extensive experience, there is no better person for the job.”

Frontier today also revealed a request for proposal (RFP) that will seek at least one but also multiple partners to operate up to 20 regional jet aircraft, to either augment or replace the nine Bombardier CRJ700 aircraft currently operated by Horizon Air under the JetExpress tail.

“The expanded [regional jet] fleet will be used to seed mainline service by developing new and smaller markets into mature mainline markets for Frontier and to supplement Frontier’s mainline service,” says the US airline.

“Our 12-year contract with Horizon Air allows for either party to initiate a review of the terms for changes to be agreed to after three years, and we are currently in discussions with Horizon in this regard,” says Frontier senior vice president and chief financial officer Paul Tate. “We intend to distribute a RFP to Horizon Air and other [regional jet] operators within the next 30 days that will enable us to execute our growth strategy.”