EARLY HISTORY OF FRONTIER AIRLINES
On November 27, 1946 a lone 24-passenger DC-3 converted from its use as a C-47 by the Army Air Corps flew the markings of Monarch Air Lines, one of the predecessor companies of Frontier Airlines. That flight carried just one passenger, a few sacks of mail and the hopes of a struggling new company to develop the first airline on a route between Denver and Durango, Colorado. The following spring, another post-war airline, Salt Lake City-based Challenger Airlines, began service between Salt Lake City and Denver by way of cities in Southern Wyoming. At the same time, Arizona Airways was beginning its operations in Arizona between the Mexican border and the Grand Canyon area.
After three years of continuous struggle by the three small airlines, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) approved a plan to merge the three into one company. This new airline would provide through, one-carrier service North-South between Canada and Mexico in seven states of the Rocky Mountain West and Southwest. It was hoped that this merger would effect certain economies and make possible an airline that could provide twice daily round-trip flights with DC-3 aircraft in an area long on geography and short on population. Approval to merge the three airlines was granted and on June 1, 1950, Frontier Airlines was officially born.
Frontier Airlines in 1950
Frontier Airlines newspaper ad from December 1951
Realizing that improved transportation throughout the West was needed to attract sufficient numbers of air travelers to make the airline strong, Frontier busied itself developing an ever-expanding system of improved schedules and routes. During this period of the early 50's, the carrier stepped in stride with the expanding development of oil, natural gas, uranium, reclamation dam projects and tourism to national parks to attract an increasing number of passengers. Growing use was made of the airline by businessmen, construction firms, suppliers, military, and vacationists.
With the discovery of large oil reserves in the Williston Basin of North Dakota and Montana, a need for scheduled air service resulted in Frontier's extending its routes into seven new communities in these two states in 1954.
In late 1958, another route case decision in the Seven States Area Case expanded Frontier's operations some 70% and added 24 new cities to the airline's system in Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, and North Dakota. The following year, the CAB decision in the Montana Case added four more cities in Montana and provided service at Jackson, Wyoming, gateway to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
During the summer of 1959, Frontier introduced larger 44-passenger Convair 340 aircraft to its fleet until 14 were in operation to serve most of Frontier's system.
FRONTIER AIRLINES IN THE 1960s
The fall of 1962 saw Frontier's new management headed by Lewis W. Dymond begin an imaginative program to attract new air travelers with improved schedules and an array of money-saving plans, one of which was the "21" Fare Plan. One month after the introduction of this plan, the airline industry's most liberal Family Plan was introduced to the public to cut the cost of travel for families. The immediate result of these plans in addition to reduced fares for military personnel and clergy, reflected a 26% growth in passenger boardings in the last six months of 1962.
Frontier Airlines in 1960
All time records were established by the airline in 1963. Passenger boardings increased by 44% and exceeded the growth reported by any of the other 23 regional or trunk airlines in the United States. One of the additional innovations that aided this growth was a Vacationland Fare which permitted 30 days of unlimited air travel anywhere over Frontier's system for $100. This, combined with highly successful package vacation plans to nine major national parks, attracted many air travelers to Frontierland.
By the end of 1964, 635,000 passengers had flown Frontier Airlines, representing a 22% increase over the previous year's results. This growth was primarily attributed to the company's introduction of the Convair 580 aircraft, which brought a 100 mph faster flight for Frontier's passengers. Four of these 53-passenger jet-powered aircraft were introduced by June of that year and carried more than 40% of the year's total passengers.
Frontier's progress in 1965 followed closely the previously established three-year growth pattern with a 16% increase in passenger miles flown by more than 737,000 passengers. On August 9, the headline in the SEATTLE TIMES proclaimed, "Frontier Buys Five Boeing 727's" which proved the company's faith in the future growth of the area it served. The airline's $55 million purchase of Boeing 727 jets was a strong addition to the company's Convair 580 jet-prop fleet. Also that year the carrier received an additional boost when the controlling interest of the airline was purchased by RKO General, Inc., a subsidiary of General Tire and Rubber Company.
Also highlighting 1965 was an exceptionally strong presentation before cities and the hearing examiner of the CAB in a bid for new major routes in the Pacific Northwest/Southwest Area Investigation. Frontier's management stressed that if awarded new routes between Seattle and New Orleans and between Seattle and St. Louis, the company would be able to reduce and eventually eliminate the need for $7 million in annual subsidy.
Meanwhile, Frontier's management continued its leadership in new fare ideas by offering another unique fare to attract more passengers. The revolutionary Standby Plan was introduced in early 1966. This new fare made it possible for anyone of any age at any time to occupy an empty seat available at flight time and to fly for approximately half of the regular air fare. It was effective in stimulating high usage by new travelers.
Completing its 20th year of service in 1966, Frontier had its most profitable year with net earnings of $1,742,000. Operating profits were up 42% over 1965, with total revenues up 27% over 1965. By the end of 1966, Frontier had introduced the first two of its Boeing 727-100 jets and its jet-prop Convair 580 fleet had grown to 18 aircraft.
The carrier's sound approach for new route awards worked through 1966 and 1967. Frontier won new route authority to operate non-stop service between Denver and St. Louis and between Denver and St. Louis by way of Kansas City. On June 13, 1967 Frontier began flying the new route with Boeing 727 and Convair 580 aircraft.
Other route awards and CAB examiner recommendations continued Frontier's way. The scenic Yampa Valley area in Northwestern Colorado was awarded Frontier followed by new routes to West Yellowstone and Missoula and Bozeman in Montana. Then, the CAB granted authority for a new East/West short-cut route between Great Falls and St. Louis by way of Billings, Rapid City, Omaha, and Kansas City. This was followed closely by recommendations by CAB hearing examiners for new non-stop service between Denver and Las Vegas and an extension from Wichita and Topeka to Chicago.
Another major boost came to Frontier on October 1, 1967 when the carrier merged with Ft. Worth-based Central Airlines. This acquisition boosted Frontier to 114 cities being served throughout a 14-state region of the Rocky Mountain West, Midwest, and Southwest. Frontier Airlines was operating a fleet of five Boeing 727-100 jets, 22 jet-prop Convair 580's, 11 Dart 600 jet-props, and 17 DC-3's.
Frontier Airlines in 1968
During 1968 Frontier continued its growth story, with continued increases in revenue passenger miles. The last of the DC-3s were retired from the fleet in 1968. The first three Boeing 727-200s were delivered early in the year and were put in service on the new non-stop flights between Denver and Las Vegas. On October 27 Memphis, Tennessee became the 116th city and 16th state to be served by Frontier, with new air service from Little Rock. This made Frontier the second largest air carrier in the United States in terms of number of cities served.
The late 1960s was when the honeymoon was over for Frontier. They had fought and won the battle to obtain an enlarged route network, but they now had to engage in a new and tougher battle of operating their new routes profitably in the face of tough competition from the trunk airlines. For example, TWA did not take kindly to the entry of Frontier into the Denver-Kansas City/St. Louis markets and showed its pique by trebling its competitive jet schedules.
As a result, 1969 was a year of many changes for Frontier. The year began with the resignation of Lewis W. Dymond, who was replaced by E. Paul Burke as President and Board Chairman. One of the first decisions made by the new Frontier management was to replace the five Boeing 727-100s with Boeing 737-200s. The first two Boeing 737-200s were delivered in the summer of 1969 and by the end of the year, ten Boeing 737s had been delivered to Frontier. New route awards continued throughout the year. In April, the CAB awarded the Salt Lake City-Denver-Dallas route to Frontier, as well as the Kansas City-Dallas route. In September, Frontier was the winner of new route authority between Dallas and Las Vegas via Albuquerque. Another highlight of 1969 was the opening of the new Operations Base in Denver, providing a modern maintenance center and administrative office center for the airline.
FRONTIER AIRLINES IN THE 1970s
The year of 1970 was a time of depressed economic conditions in the U.S.A. and the airline industry as a whole was faced with a sharp slowdown in traffic growth, steadily rising costs due to inflation, low load factors due to excessive competition for the current levels of traffic, and the burden of debt service expense at high interest rates. Although Frontier was unable to produce profitable results in 1970, growth was still at a relatively better pace than that for most other airlines. Highlights of the year for new route awards was non-stop service between Omaha and Chicago's Midway Airport. As part of this new route, several other Frontier cities also benefited. This included:
First jet service for Grand Island
New non-stop service between Omaha and Denver
Direct through plane jet flights to Phoenix from Chicago by way of Omaha and Denver
Direct jet service between Billings, Rapid City and Chicago via Omaha
The year also saw the introduction of the deHavilland Twin Otter to Frontier's fleet. This 19-passenger turboprop plane began service on the Northern Plains routes in northern Montana and North Dakota. Communities receiving service with this new plane were: in Montana-Great Falls, Lewistown, Billings, Miles City, Glendive, Sidney, Havre, Glasgow, and Wolf Point and in North Dakota-the cities of Williston and Minot.
Frontier broke the 21 million mark in accumulated passenger boardings in 1971. Frontier also went through a management change in March 1971, when A. L. (Al) Feldman came from the corporate ranks of various Aerojet-General divisions to become the new president of Frontier Airlines. His first chore was to turn Frontier around from facing financial disaster to being a profitable airline. After an internal overhaul of Frontier and many changes to improve service, results showed quickly. By 1972 Frontier drew 13% more passengers. By 1973 the number of paying passengers went to an all-time high, and Civil Aeronautics Board statistics showed Frontier received fewer customer complaints than any other regional airline.
With inauguration of service to Winnipeg, Canada on July 1, 1974, the company became an international carrier. Frontier had its most successful year to date in 1978. In addition to a 26.2 percent rise in traffic and a record profit of $13.7 million, it added eight Boeing 737s to its fleet and became a three-nation carrier by launching service to two Mexican cities on November 3.
FRONTIER AIRLINES IN THE 1980s
Despite skyrocketing fuel prices and an 11.3 percent traffic decline from the level in 1979, service over the routes allowed a cushion to grant Frontier a record $23.2 million net profit in 1980. By the end of 1981 the airline had 5,800 employees, 45 Boeing 737s, 15 Convair 580s, and a route network which included 86 cities in 27 states, Mexico, and Canada.
Frontier Airlines became the prime subsidiary of newly created Frontier Holdings, Inc., on May 6, 1982. Two weeks later the carrier introduced the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80, and on June 1 Frontier became an "all jet" airline with the retirement of its 15 remaining Convair 580s. At the same time, intense competition, a Christmas blizzard which closed the Denver airport for almost 2 days, and the termination of service to 11 smaller cities drove traffic downward by 7 percent. As a result, net earnings of $15.9 million were less than half of 1981's profits, suggesting that all was not well with the airline.
In 1983 Frontier posted a net loss of $13.8 million, the first deficit in more than a decade. The year 1984 saw the downward spiral continue. Despite a cost-saving labor agreement, an 11.2 percent increase in passenger boardings, and a rise in revenues, the net loss of $31.3 million meant that a drastic change would have to be made if the airline was to survive.
FRONTIER AIRLINES ROUTE MAP, 1984
Early in 1985 the airline's board of directors approved a plan that would have allowed Frontier's employees to purchase the airline for $17 a share, totaling $211 million. In early October, however, Frank Lorenzo made an offer to Frontier's stockholders which was substantially above that which the carrier's employees could muster. The employees, fearful of Lorenzo's reputation, threatened court action on the grounds that such an acquisition would result in a monopoly of the Denver market by Lorenzo's Continental Airlines. People Express Airlines then entered the picture and offered stockholders $24 per share. The offer was accepted, much to the delight of the airline's employees.
Unfortunately, things did not improve for the airline and by the summer of 1986 it appeared certain that Frontier could not survive. Talks were held with United Airlines to sell Frontier to United, but those talks failed when United employees objected to United's plans of how Frontier employees were to be absorbed by United. After talks with United broke down, Frontier Airlines stopped flying and filed for bankruptcy. Eventually the remaining assets, all Frontier stock, and more importantly, the FAA Operating Certificate from Frontier were purchased by Continental Airlines and many of Frontier's routes were flown by Continental.
Additional history details covering the 1970s and 1980s are planned in the future.
THE "NEW" FRONTIER AIRLINES IS BORN
In early 1993 work began to start a "new" Frontier Airlines, which was to be headed by Hank Lund and seven other executives from the original Frontier Airlines. The Denver-based carrier raised about $9.4 million in startup financing, including $7.6 million in an initial public offering, plus investments from founders and private stock placements.
The "new" Frontier was to start with 200 employees, but received so many calls and letters from former Frontier employees that applications had to be shut off at 5,000. Out of the initial 200 employees, 75 percent of them had worked for the original Frontier Airlines.
The "new" Frontier began flying July 5, 1994 with routes from Denver to Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota and Denver to Bismark and Minot, North Dakota. In August Frontier added flights from Denver to Billings and Great Falls, Montana and Denver to Bozeman and Missoula, Montana. By January, 1995 Frontier also had added flights from Denver to Omaha, Nebraska and Denver to Albuquerque, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
Another Day, Another Dollar.... Young Jeezy