It’s a new beginning for the pilots of Frontier Airlines, ALPA’s 31st and newest pilot group. On April 29, 2016, the Frontier pilots’ independent union, the Frontier Airlines Pilots Association (FAPA), announced that of the 93 percent of its members who participated in the vote, 93 percent supported merging FAPA with ALPA. FAPA pilot representatives received a standing ovation from the ALPA Executive Board, whose members unanimously ratified the agreement on May 18, and the merger became official June 1.
“This collective determination by our pilots makes our union stronger, makes ALPA stronger, and together we will continue to advance our profession,” said former FAPA president and Frontier MEC chair Capt. Brian Ketchum.
The Frontier pilots embark on this historic merger as they commence their latest round of contract negotiations. “We have a 12-month early opener in our current contact, which we executed on March 2,” said Ketchum. He added that the pilots are meeting with management to engage in negotiations about 5 to 7 days a month.
Capt. Andrew Dumont, the pilots’ Negotiating Committee chair, recently talked to the news media about the “benefits of having ALPA professionals on our team,” adding, “We look forward to negotiating a career contract that appropriately recognizes our value.”
Change has been a common theme for the Frontier pilots, who formed FAPA in 1999, just five years after the airline was established. Frontier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2008 and emerged two years later with a new owner, Republic Airways Holdings. Soon after, Republic decided to merge Frontier with another of its subsidiaries, Midwest Airlines.
Frontier’s current owner, Indigo Partners LLC, purchased the carrier in late 2013, adjusting the airline’s business model to make it a pure ultra-low-cost carrier. Amid all of this change, Frontier has transformed from a carrier on the verge of shutting down to a successful enterprise recently touted as the fifth-most profitable airline in the United States.
Frontier’s financial success is reflected in the airline’s projected expansion and fleet growth. In addition to introducing 56 new routes between April and June 2016, Frontier is supplementing its fleet with orders for 18 A319neos and 62 A320neos.
Despite this progress, Ketchum described the pilot group’s relationship with management as “distant” and “strained.” As evidence, he pointed to the nearly 400 grievances the pilots filed during the last two and a half years, a substantial total considering that the airline only recently reached a total of 1,000 flightcrew members.
“A significant portion of the grievances is related to pilot quality-of-life issues, such as reassignment and scheduling,” said Ketchum, noting that management has angered pilots by unilaterally reinterpreting certain contract provisions.
Meanwhile, rumors continue to circulate about a potential merger with another airline. In addition, the news media reported in December 2015 that Frontier has held “early-stage talks” with investment banks about an initial public offering. Whatever the future holds for the airline, the pilots want Frontier management to recognize that continued success will require a joint effort.
“In recent years, we’ve done everything we can to return this airline to profitability, including single-engine taxis, limiting our APU usage to the minimum necessary for safe and comfortable operations, and other fuel-saving initiatives,” said Ketchum. The former FAPA president highlighted the numerous letters of agreement and concessions pilots made during the period when the carrier was struggling financially.
“Frontier pilots have historically sacrificed to ensure the viability of our airline, and our role has been crucial to our company’s success,” Ketchum noted, emphasizing that it is time for Frontier management to pony up and reward the pilots for all that they contribute to this money-making operation.