CAROLE SHIFRIN WASHINGTON DC US low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines has opted for the Airbus Industrie A318/A319 family of aircraft to replace the growing number of Boeing 737s it has operated since its start-up in mid-1994.

Denver-based Frontier plans to acquire up to 36 new Airbus aircraft over the next decade under two separate transactions. A letter of intent (LoI) with Airbus includes a firm purchase order for 11 aircraft with options for nine more. Under the terms of another LoI with GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), Frontier will lease 15 new Airbus A319s and one A318. When its transition to an Airbus fleet is complete, Frontier officials say the 132-seat A319 will account for two-thirds of the fleet and the smaller, 114-seat A318 will represent one-third.

The airline is expected to take delivery of the first Airbus - probably one of the leased aircraft - in late 2001 and to have phased out the 737s by 2004. Frontier operates 20 737s and is likely to add three more - for growth - next year under short-term leases.

Sam Addoms, Frontier's president, says the purchase plan will also provide positive financial benefits as a result of accelerated depreciation and the associated reduction in income taxes. Frontier's fortunes have been steadily improving; the July-September period was its sixth consecutive profitable quarter and the first in which it carried retained earnings on its balance sheet.

When the carrier disclosed its Airbus purchase decision, it said its A319s would be equipped with International Aero Engines' V2500 powerplants. But IAE lost out to CFM International's CFM56 engines when the leasing deal with GECAS was signed; GECAS's A319s are equipped exclusively with CFMI engines. Frontier's A318s will be powered by Pratt & Whitney PW6000s.

Source: Airline Business