More than a week after Frontier Airlines announced it was pulling its service from Mobile’s downtown airport due to a lack of demand, a Mobile Airport Authority (MAA) official questioned that justification.
MAA President Chris Curry said flights from Mobile to Denver have exceeded expectations since the start of November, with flights averaging more than 80 percent capacity.
The flights to Denver in December were 92.8 percent full, Curry said. In November, flight occupancy averaged in the high 70 percent range, he said.
“We have these months where there is a real lull between holidays or before, and then it ramps up,” Curry said.
When Frontier service began in May, flight capacity to Denver and Chicago averaged in the high 60s, he said.
“That’s not unusual when you enter a new market,” Curry said. “Service has ramped up here since we started.”
In addition to questioning the reasons given for Frontier’s departure, Curry offered an alternative reason for the airline leaving the Mobile market. In essence, he argued Southwest Airlines leaving the Newark, New Jersey, market gave Frontier an opportunity to move into a larger area the company couldn’t pass up.
MAA moved forward with plans to build the downtown terminal with low-cost airlines in mind. Initially, Via Airlines was going to be the first carrier to offer service from the Brookley Aeroplex, but the company cancelled all of its flights before it could move from Mobile Regional Airport. Frontier announced in January of last year that it would provide service out of Brookley, but will stop in April.
Most of the costs associated with the new airport was paid for by MAA itself. Some of the work was paid for through federal grants. No local tax money was used to pay for the airport, Curry said.
“The money we used was generated through our revenue,” he said. “There was no taxpayer money included.”
The airport will not be abandoned once Frontier leaves, Curry said, even if another commercial company doesn’t occupy the void left. He said the airport will continue to offer charter flights through Atlas Air, Allegiant and Sun Country.
“Charter is an air service hired to take people from point A to point B,” Curry said.
Despite losing Frontier service in April, the plan to move all commercial airport operations to Brookley has not changed, Curry said. Plans to expand the current downtown terminal — using the half of the building Airbus has been using until this month — are still a go. Curry said the extra space could allow MAA to expand its passenger holding area to better suit bigger airlines. As it is configured now, the holding space only allows for one, 186-seat plane at a time. The expansion could mean improved concessions as well, Curry said. The airport currently offers only vending machines.
The possibility still remains to feature commercial service from a low-cost carrier at the terminal in the future, but more room could also allow for a large carrier like Delta, United or U.S. Airways, currently stationed at Bates Field, to make the move to Brookley, he said.
“We have more space available now than we had before,” Curry said. “One of the legacy airlines could transfer.”
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