The Missoula Economic Partnership announced last week that, despite months of promising negotiations, Frontier Airlines will not be extending service to Missoula in 2013. While the news may seem like a setback in MEP's effort to improve low-cost airline service, Executive Director James Grunke insists it's not the end of the world.
"There are other low-cost carriers that we've talked to," Grunke says. "We've also talked with both the legacy carriers, United and Delta, again saying, 'What do we have to do to lower airfare?' That's our goal. The who doesn't matter as much to us as achieving that."
Missoula was at the top of Frontier's list of new service locations going into the 2013 season. But the airline hit a snag in securing new aircraft for its fleet, pushing delivery of those planes into July. Instead of overnighting a plane in Missoula and operating a morning departure flight, Frontier would have had to establish a mid-afternoon schedule into and out of Missoula that the airline and MEP both considered less than ideal.
"It didn't really make sense for them or for us," Grunke says.
Now, with several thousand dollars worth of commitments from local businesses for revenue incentives, MEP is continuing to court other options. Among the low-cost carriers MEP has approached, Grunke lists Southwest Airlines, which currently services Spokane. "We're trying to demonstrate why this market makes sense for them to enter," he says. In addition the group is in ongoing negotiations with major carriers to hash out some incentive for them to decrease flight costs.
As for Frontier, the company is still sold on Missoula. Grunke says they've committed to continue working with MEP, and both parties expect Missoula to see service starting in spring 2014barring any more turbulence between now and then.
"Until we see the planes actually taking off and landing," Grunke says, "it's always going to be up in the air."