Capt. Elliott Isaacs (Frontier), second from left, his pilot group’s Master Executive Council vice chair, accepts the J.J. O’Donnell Trophy for Excellence in Political Action from Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president; Capt. Bob Fox, ALPA’s first vice president; Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary; and Capt. Joseph Genovese, ALPA’s vice president–finance/treasurer, at the September 2021 Executive Board meeting. (Photo: Chris Weaver)
Frontier Airlines took steps forward in 2021: growing its pilot group, expanding its fleet, and continuing its rebound toward profitability after the industry’s COVID-triggered decline.
Last year began with the return of all pilots from COVID-19-related leaves and saw a renewal in hiring and growth. After starting 2021 with 1,592 pilots, the airline will have more than 1,700 pilots on its seniority list entering 2022, and the carrier plans to hire more than 40 new pilots each month for the foreseeable future.
After years of fits and starts, on April 1 Frontier finally landed on the stock market with a $570 million IPO, generating $266 million in direct proceeds to the low-cost carrier. The airline now trades under the NASDAQ symbol “ULCC.”
Frontier renewed its focus on domestic and international network expansion during 2021, opening stations in St. Maarten; San Jose, Costa Rica; Guatemala; Antigua; Belize; and Burbank, Calif., as well as expanding the airline’s Las Vegas, Nev., schedule to a historic high in number of departures. By the end of 2021, Orlando, Fla., was projected to surpass Denver, Colo., as Frontier’s largest station in terms of daily departures.
“It’s been kind of a guessing game trying to figure out where the airline will expand next,” said Capt. Brian Ketchum, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “In the past 12 months, we’ve added domiciles in Tampa, Miami, and now Atlanta. A new base farther west might be the next step.”
The year also brought challenges to the MEC and airline. As the COVID-19 pandemic persisted, the MEC was faced with preparing for the possibility of company- or government-mandated vaccination and/or testing policies.
“Like a lot of the other airlines, our management has been sitting on the fence waiting to see what the government and the courts will do. In the meantime, not knowing the policy has put significant stress on our pilot group,” Ketchum observed.
The latter half of 2021 also saw a marked uptick in attrition among both the pilot ranks and corporate management. Most pilot attrition has come from junior first officers leaving for opportunities at other major U.S. passenger and freight carriers. It remains to be seen how Frontier management will navigate these challenges during 2022.
Despite COVID-19’s unpredictability on the industry, the Frontier pilots remained meaningfully engaged with the union and efforts on Capitol Hill. They were honored for the second year in a row with ALPA’s prestigious J.J. O’Donnell Trophy for Excellence in Political Action for the pilot group’s strong participation.
“We’re proud to be members of the national PAC Steering Committee, and we’re working hard to try and achieve a PAC three-peat for 2022,” Ketchum said.
After serving multiple terms as president of Frontier’s former house union and then as the pilot group’s MEC chair, Ketchum stepped down from the position at the end of 2021. “It was time,” he said. “It’s been five years since our merger with ALPA, and experience has shown that joining the Association was the best move we could have made.”
Frontier Airlines closed 2021 with a fleet of 112 narrowbody Airbus aircraft, consisting of 21 A320ceos, 18 A321ceos, and 73 A320neos. The airline retired all its A319ceos during 2021 and has pending orders for 73 Airbus A320neos and 158 Airbus A321neos, the latter of which includes the first order by a U.S. airline for the long-range Airbus A321XLR. The airline expects to have a fleet of 272 aircraft by the end of 2029.
In January, Frontier opened a new pilot base in Atlanta, Ga., and will likely open at least one more base later this year.