Frontier Pilots Warn of Potential Operational Meltdown

DENVER—Frontier pilots are warning that Frontier Airlines’ plan to increase aircraft utilization to a level that has not been sustained by any other narrowbody fleet, in combination with even more aggressive cost cutting, lagging pilot hiring, and maintenance shortcomings, make it likely that the airline could soon suffer a significant operational meltdown.

In a July 2 communication to pilots, Capt. Tracy Smith, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association’s (ALPA) Frontier Airlines pilot group, said union leaders believe Frontier is mismanaging the operation and making it impossible to sustain management’s overly optimistic flight schedule and aggressive growth plans.

“As pilots, we know that if you run an airplane too hard, for too long, it breaks. Wishful thinking will not make an airplane run harder or longer or faster. The same holds true for airlines,” Smith said. “Under the leadership of Frontier investors Bill Franke and Indigo Partners, our management devised a plan that has pushed the operation too hard and has cut costs and necessary infrastructure too deeply. Based on our own analysis, we’re concerned that serious operational challenges will get even worse in the near future.”

In November 2017 Frontier announced a massive order for 134 new Airbus aircraft, part of a plan to triple the airline’s size over the next 8 to 10 years. It has added more than 40 new routes since February alone, and continues to announce more.

But Smith said the rapid expansion has stretched Frontier’s operations to the limit and beyond:

  • With the lowest pilot pay rates in the country, pilot hiring has not been sufficient to effectively cover even the airline’s existing routes.
  • Frontier’s high aircraft-utilization rates do not allow for maintenance to occur in a timely manner, which results in maintenance deferrals, delays, and cancellations at a rate not previously experienced.
  • Frontier’s decision to cut costs by outsourcing as many functions as possible continues to contribute to poor operational performance. As an example, the airline’s “business partner” responsible for ramp operations at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport walked off the job on June 30, resulting in significant delays.

Smith said the most dramatic change in Frontier’s operations has been management’s insistence on operating its aircraft 14.5 hours per day. By contrast, customary industry narrowbody utilization at all U.S. airlines averaged 9.72 hours per day in 2017.

“Achieving and sustaining utilization rates that high are unprecedented, and it’s placing incredible stress on pilots and aircraft,” Smith said. “While pilots are continuing to work hard to support Frontier Airlines, we anticipate that the Company will once again blame pilots for our next operational meltdown, rather than accept responsibility for the airline’s failures.”

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union, representing more than 60,000 pilots at 34 airlines in the United States and Canada. Visit the ALPA website at www.alpa.org or follow us on Twitter @WeAreALPA. And for more details on the Frontier pilots, visit www.frontierbadbargain.com and follow @F9ALPA on Twitter.

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CONTACT: ALPA Media, 703-481-4440 or Media@alpa.org