Passengers flying out of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport will have access to about 80 new destinations this fall, when Frontier Airlines will begin daily service to Denver from the booming airport.
Frontier will be Gateway’s third airline and it represents a milestone in the reliever airport’s evolution. Frontier operates a major hub in Denver, where passengers can switch planes and go on to about 80 domestic and international destinations on the same airline. Or, passengers can change airlines and exponentially expand their options, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said.
“You can travel from nearly anywhere in this country from Mesa,” Smith said.
Frontier will begin nonstop service Nov. 15 with one daily flight to and from Denver International Airport. That will give Gateway passengers access to about 115 destinations, up from roughly 35 cities now served by Allegiant and Spirit airlines.
The existing airlines offer point-to-point service, which has limited options for passengers. Mesa has made it a top priority to get a hub airline to further boost Gateway’s appeal to leisure fliers but also to build its viability as an option for business travel.
Getting Frontier will make it easier for Gateway to attract additional airlines and further grow what people have until now considered a “cute little airport,” Smith said.
“Now you’re not a novelty anymore. I think we’re legitimate and that’s important,” Smith said. “People’s perceptions are important.”
Frontier has studied Gateway for about a year as Mesa city and tourism officials aggressively touted the potential of the growing area. The airline was attracted to a strong and growing economy as well its vibrant conference industry, said Greg Aretakis, a Frontier vice president.
“Within 10 miles of this airport, there’s over half a million people, which makes it one of the densest submarkets in the country,” he said.
Frontier expects strong demand from East Valley residents at Gateway because of heavy freeway traffic near Phoenix International Sky Harbor Airport, where it operates five daily flights. The second Valley airport made sense to Frontier because Phoenix and Denver are among the top destinations fliers in both markets want to go, he said.
Frontier will begin with the daily flight but will consider additional service if demand warrants.
Gateway has boomed since Allegiant began service in 2007. The airport handled nearly 1 million passengers in 2011 and is on track for 1.2 million or more this year. Gateway’s passenger traffic has expanded about 50 percent every year, said Milt Fort, marketing director for the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It is astonishing. You might as well use the word crazy because that’s what it is,” Fort said. “It’s just crazy what the growth has been.”
Mesa and the bureau are already working to capitalize on the economic development potential of having the new passenger service.
Mesa sold Gateway to Frontier by touting not the entire Valley as a market, but rather the more than 1 million residents of the East Valley and northern Pinal County. That submarket alone offers substantial potential for business travel, said Scot Rigby, an economic development project manager for Mesa.
“That’s one of the focuses that Gateway has, to catch that business travel,” Rigby said.
The CVB will begin a marketing campaign for leisure travel in the Denver market, hoping to lure visitors to activities like the Colorado Rockies spring training.
Frontier is a low-cost carrier, like Gateway’s existing airlines. Mesa officials said that business model offers a lot of potential to create a new market for air travel without competing with Sky Harbor. Smith said his previous career as a homebuilder taught him that lower-priced products will do well in a weak economy. But he believes the low-cost carriers will still boom even in a robust economy.
“These low-cost carriers have now proven that they can provide a low-cost product and now people are hooked,” Smith said.
Frontier will offer $69 introductory fares through Sunday, and $79 after that. The airline offers several price ranges for options, including seats in five rows that offer 37 inches of legroom. Frontier will leave Denver about 1:10 p.m. daily and return from Mesa about two hours later.
Frontier will begin service just as a Gateway terminal expansion will add two gates, for a total of eight gates. The existing terminal will reach capacity in 2013 with 10 gates.
Aretakis expects “terrific” demand for the new Gateway service, in part based on a Monday news conference at a Mesa hotel ballroom. Tourism and city officials from across the East Valley attended to speak about how they think it’s significant for the entire region.
“Look at the room — the room is full of people,” Aretakis said. “I’ve definitely opened airports before where I went and made speeches in front of two reporters and two cameras and nobody else, so the support of what I see here is what I like.”
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