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Frontier Airlines will launch Provo's first-ever commercial airline service with daily jets to Denver International Airport, hoping to tap Utah County's flourishing population growth.
The seven-days-a-week service starts June 20, Daniel Shurz, Frontier's vice president of strategy and planning, said Wednesday.
"Obviously, with the population in Utah Valley increasing, we see the demographics as very favorable. We want to take advantage of that," he added.
Utah County is one of the fastest-growing in the U.S. With a population of more than 500,000, its population was up more than 40 percent from 2000. By contrast, the state's population increased 25 percent in the same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The service is a big bet for the low-cost carrier. Frontier will fly the route with Embraer 190 midrange jets that seat 99 passengers. Should the aircraft fly completely full every day, almost 700 people would get aboard at Provo's airport every week.
Load factor the percentage of occupied seats in a commercial aircraft averaged 81 percent at domestic airlines in September, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
"We think we can hit the load factor," said Provo Municipal Airport manager Steve Gleason.
Gleason noted that a study by Sabre Airline Solutions of airline bookings by passengers with Utah County ZIP codes showed plenty of demand for a direct flight to Frontier's airport hub at DIA, even though Salt Lake City International Airport is only about 40 miles from Provo.
"They saw the same study that we did and obviously felt that not only would they be able to make it work, they are considering adding more flights," Gleason said.
Frontier's Shurz said the proximity of Utah County to Salt Lake City International, where Delta Air Lines maintains its western-most U.S. hub, isn't the big drawback to operating a profitable Provo-to-DIA route that some might think.
Frontier also won't cut the number of daily flights between Salt Lake City International Airport and DIA. In fact, the carrier plans to start a sixth daily flight between the two airports on June 6, Shurz said.
The county's population growth shows few signs of slowing anytime soon. Reconstruction of Interstate 15 and attendant traffic hassles also could help drive demand for air service in Provo. And when the reconstruction is done, the local airport should shave off 40 to 45 minutes of drive time for passengers living in Provo and farther south, Shurz said.
Provo will help market the new service to county residents with a $500,000 federal grant the city received in December, Gleason said.
Utah County's business community has asked for years why commercial airline service isn't available in Provo. Gleason said the city occasionally saw interest on the part of airlines, but nothing ever came of it until last year.
In June, he went to an Airports Council International conference in San Diego, which brought airlines and airports together in the same room. Frontier was first on his list of airlines to recruit to Provo.
"They were my number one choice, and we ended up being close to the top of their list," Gleason said.
Air transportation in Utah is getting more sophisticated. In January, SkyWest Airlines replaced turboprop flights between Salt Lake City and its St. George hometown with first-ever jet service.
New Frontier routes
Frontier Airlines said Wednesday it plans to boost its Denver hub by beginning nonstop flights to three cities.
In addition to Provo, June 20, the airline said it will add flights to Knoxville, Tenn., June 6, and Sioux Falls, S.D., July 4.
Frontier's Provo-to-Denver service
Starts June 20
Aircraft is a 99-seat Embraer 190 jet
Flights leave Provo Municipal Airport at 8:30 a.m., arrive at Denver International Airport at 9:53 a.m.
Flights leave Denver at 7:50 p.m., arrive in Provo at 9:14 p.m.
Introductory fare is $69, one way