Commuters in search of choices in the air market to Anchorage may soon have another alternative.
Fairbanks-based Frontier Flying Service Inc. is considering joining the Kenai market, which is presently served by just one passenger carrier, Era Aviation.
Marina Jarvis, Frontier's marketing director, told the Kenai Rotary Club last week that the company is awaiting word on a federal loan that will help it acquire a sixth aircraft, which would allow expansion into the Kenai market.
Frontier expects to hear the status of the loan by April, which would enable the company to begin flights to and from Kenai as soon as May. It would be the culmination of months of talks between Frontier and Kenai Municipal Airport Manager Becky Cronkhite.
Cronkhite said the city of Kenai has been encouraged by the commuters in the population to get another carrier in to compete with Era, which is in its 18th year of serving Kenai. She said she knows Frontier well from her days in the Interior.
"We're not talking to a start-up operation. Frontier has a good business background and an excellent safety background," she said. "They're a good company."
Established in 1950, Frontier was purchased by John Hadjukovich in 1974. The company employs 150 people, including 47 pilots, who fly Frontier's present fleet of five Beech 1900 aircraft, which are capable of carrying 19 passengers each.
In addition to five flights a day between Fairbanks and Anchorage, the company flies established routes to the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, the North Slope and such Interior villages as Galena, Nulato and Kaltag.
Cronkhite noted the importance of getting an established carrier in the market after a series of failed attempts by others -- TransNorthern and Yute Air, most recently -- to remain viable as the market's second carrier.
"The city has seen enough airlines come and go that we want to bring someone in that's stable," she said. "Frontier is here to stay. It is my personal opinion that Frontier is the best company out there that I can market to."
In her address to the Rotary club, Frontier's Jarvis emphasized that the point of coming into the market is not to compete with Era but, rather, to complement and augment existing service.
"We can't compete with Era," Jarvis said. "If they dropped their prices, we couldn't match them."
To that end, Frontier also is seeking assistance from the city to get service up and running out of Kenai. Jarvis said in addition to getting landing fees waived and leasing costs reduced for the first 12 months of operation, the company also would need assurance from the business community that 50 percent loads could be maintained on the expected two daily flights Frontier would make between Kenai and Anchorage.
"Our start-up costs must be offset by corporate guarantees and local incentives while the market matures," Jarvis said.
She said the operational costs of the aircraft will make it difficult for Frontier to offer fares cheaper than Era's.
"Sixty-seven dollars is not a bad fare," she said. "You could drive it cheaper, but we'd be here to cater to business travelers who just need to get from point A to point B.
"Here's another option."
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