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Frontier Airlines to expand despite delay in sale

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Frontier Airlines announced Wednesday that it is expanding operations at the New Castle Airport in Delaware with flights to Detroit and Atlanta.

Frontier CEO David Siegel said that, in addition to previously announced plans to begin service to Fort Myers, Fla., starting Nov. 16, the Denver-based discount air carrier will begin nonstop flights to Atlanta and Detroit on April 29.

Siegel said the Wilmington expansion plans do not depend upon completion of the proposed $145 million sale of Frontier by its Indianapolis-based parent company, Republic Airways Holdings Inc., to Phoenix-based private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC.

Republic's sale to Indigo, however, would result in a well-capitalized, privately owned company with the potential to expand even faster, he said.

"Should that transaction close, you'll see us growing at a much more significant rate," Siegel said, adding that it's normal for a new owner of a business to look at existing operations.

"We're committed to Wilmington either way," he said.

Republic Airways said Tuesday that a Monday deadline for the Indigo sale would be extended by two more days. While not providing any details, Siegel said officials likely would know where the deal stands either late Wednesday or Thursday.

Indigo, which sold its stake in Florida-based discount carrier Spirit Airlines earlier this year, is run by former America West airline CEO Bill Franke. Indigo wants to turn Frontier into an "ultra-discount" airline but has said it needs agreements with the Frontier flight attendants union, and with Barclays, which issues a Frontier-affiliated credit card, in order to close the deal.

"They'll make us an even better competitor and an even more successful airline," Siegel said.

Frontier began operating from Wilmington this summer, ending a five-year period in which Delaware had no commercial air service. It currently offers service from Wilmington to Chicago, Orlando, Tampa and Denver but dropped flights to Houston because of low demand.

"The Houston market was a disappointment ... All the other markets are doing well," said Siegel, adding that Frontier is operating at about 90-percent capacity in Wilmington.

"People are coming out and voting with their wallets," said Siegel, whose company is hoping more travelers recognize Wilmington as a cheaper, friendlier and more convenient option to larger regional airports in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

New Castle Airport director Stephen Williams said the facility has processed more than 70,000 passengers since Frontier began operating in July, roughly equally split between departures and arrivals.

"Low-cost airport translates into low-fare airline. That's what the consumers are looking for," Williams said.

Gov. Jack Markell did his best Wednesday to promote Frontier, urging people to check out the company's website when making travel plans.

"Some of the fares are just incredible ... In the end, their success is our success," Markell said.

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