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Republic unit Frontier bringing air service back to Delaware

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Frontier Airlines, a subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings Inc., is planning to resurrect commercial airline service in Delaware.

The Denver-based airline said Monday that it will begin its Airbus 320 service in Delaware on July 1, offering three flights a week to Chicago-Midway and Houston from the New Castle County Airport.

Service to Orlando and Denver begins the following day with two flights a week to Orlando and four flights a week to Denver, Frontier's main hub. Service to Tampa, with two flights a week, will start July 4.

"It's an immediately attractive mix of route options," said Daniel Shurz, Frontier's senior vice president, commercial.

"We're targeting primarily leisure customers," Shurz added. "... It makes access to these great destinations more convenient and certainly more affordable."

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell welcomed the news.

"The nice thing about Frontier is that they've got a name brand that people recognize," he said. "These are very good cities they're flying into."

Markell was to join Frontier officials at the New Castle airport for a formal announcement on Tuesday.

Frontier's decision means an end to a five-year stretch in which Delaware had no commercial air service, following the abrupt shutdown and bankruptcy filing by startup carrier Skybus Airlines in 2008 after it barely got off the ground. Delta ended a brief experiment with service to Atlanta in 2007.

"Commercial passenger air service in and out of Delaware is something we've been without for far too long," U.S. Sen. Chris Coons said in a statement released by Frontier. "This is exciting news."

Shurz said Wilmington fits in with Frontier's plans to develop new markets in which the company can take advantage of population concentrations and offer alternatives to relatively high fares in the general aviation market. He cited the company's recent entry into Trenton, N.J., where a customer can park and walk to the terminal at Trenton-Mercer Airport in a few minutes, as an example of how Frontier can provide an alternative to larger airports like those in Philadelphia and New York.

"It takes a lot of the stress out of air travel," he said.

Shurz also noted that Wilmington is a low-cost airport from an airline perspective, meaning Frontier will have to pay less than at other, larger airports to operate from there.

While airport officials will have to ensure sufficient parking and Transportation Security Administration security will have to be reinstalled, Shurz indicated that Frontier does not expect any problems in getting federal regulatory approval for commercial operations in Delaware.

"A lot of what we need is already there," he said.

Shurz also said Republic Airways' previously announced plans to divest Frontier in the first half of this year, either by spinning it off through an initial public offering, selling it to another airline or selling it to a private equity firm, should not affect Frontier's plans for Wilmington.

"We don't think there's going to be any impact," he said. "There's no reason to believe that a new investor would not want to continue down that path."

Republic stock rose 57 cents, or 5.7 percent, on Monday, to $10.64 per share.

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