BLOOMINGTON — Frontier Airlines will end all service at Central Illinois Regional Airport by next spring.
The decision affects Frontier's flights to Denver and Orlando, Fla., CIRA spokeswoman Fran Strebing said Monday.
As a result, the airport’s three weekly flights to Denver will effectively cease when a previously announced seasonal stoppage of service begins Jan. 7. Twice weekly service to Orlando, now halted for the season, will resume Dec. 5 and end after April 27.
The move is part of a larger effort being made by Frontier's new parent company, Indigo Partners, to remake the airline into an ultra-low-cost carrier with point-to-point service between large cities rather than a hub network through Denver.
In a statement, Frontier spokesman Todd Lehmacher said the “difficult decision” came after “careful analysis and evaluation,” which led the Denver-based airline to conclude the Bloomington-Normal community “isn’t robust enough to support point-to-point service.”
CIRA Executive Director Carl Olson said the news was a disappointment, adding that Frontier is making similar cuts in other communities.
“Their low fares and customer service were widely enjoyed at CIRA and in Central Illinois,” Olson said. “(But) uncertainty and volatility are a regular occurrence in air service right now.”
Frontier began its CIRA service to the two destinations in May 2012, shortly after the airport lost its then-No. 2 carrier, AirTran Airways. Last year, the airline served a total of 76,434 passengers at the airport, nearly 18 percent of the 428,638 passengers that used the facility.
Olson said the flights were typically more than 90 percent full.
“It’s not positive, but it’s not a death blow,” said Mike Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, a Denver-area aviation consulting firm that has worked with the airport. “Frontier is going into very, very big markets. The model has changed.”
CIRA will continue to have service to the Orlando area through Allegiant Air, which also began service to the Tampa-St. Pete area last week. Other destinations are Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Atlanta, Ga., and Minneapolis.
But for the traveling public, Frontier’s loss could hit them in the pocketbook, said Tim Davis, president of Suzi Davis Travel, with offices in Bloomington and other Central Illinois cities.
“It’s bad news. You hate to lose service … This will mean higher fares, even higher than they have been,” Davis said.
He hopes airport officials will be able to convince existing carriers like Delta Airlines to fly larger planes in and out of CIRA to help alleviate the loss.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos said that while he doesn’t want to lose service at the airport, “Frontier is moving to a model that really doesn’t help us at CIRA. It’s becoming a different airline.”
Meanwhile, Olson said airport officials are continually working to attract service to CIRA, describing it as a “daily activity.”
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner called convenient air transportation a “vital piece of economic development for our city” and said he wants to work with airport officials to try and attract replacement service.
Initially, the Frontier service to Denver was supported by the Community Air Service Initiative, a nonprofit effort spearheaded by the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. The group created a contingency fund to protect Frontier in case it failed to make a profit during its first year of operation, but the airline didn’t need it and funds were returned to investors.
Charlie Moore, president and CEO of the chamber, said CASI “still stands ready to be of assistance” if needed again.