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BISMARCK, N.D. -- Frontier Airlines says Bismarck does not have strong enough boarding numbers to warrant year-round air service.

“Bismarck has performed in line with expectations, but has not shown the strength necessary for year round service,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, service is being suspended in early January.”

Currently, the airline flies between Bismarck and Denver four times a week.

Frontier was bought by Indigo Partners from Republic Airways in December 2013. Frontier announced a “rebranding” effort earlier this month and has made similar cuts to other markets it serves, including reducing service to Fargo to three days a week, in an effort to cut costs.

“My understanding is that the new owners of Frontier are converting to an ultra-low cost carrier,” said Kelvin Hullet, president of the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce. “As part of their evaluation, they are reviewing routes to ensure they meet profitability goals.”

In April, the company began offering a stripped-down rate in which customers paid for each service, including carry-on luggage and seat selection.

“The effort has to be to ensure that we are getting profitability and that the cities are paying their way,” Franke said in an interview with the Denver Business Journal Sept. 10. “It’s in the early days of the refocusing of the network.”

Frontier started service in Bismarck in May 2012. To attract the airline to the area in an effort to drive down air fare, the city of Bismarck offered a more than $200,000 incentive package to Frontier.

The Bismarck City Commission approved $200,000 from the city’s Vision Fund for a revenue guarantee. The guarantee ensured Frontier would be reimbursed if boardings had dropped below the company’s break-even point. The incentive never had to be used. The airport also provided $50,000 for marketing costs and waived airport facility fees.

In addition to the city’s commitment, Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce members set aside a portion of their travel budgets as a guarantee to buy tickets.

“Recruiting air service is an on-going need and challenge,” Hullet said. “While Frontier only stayed two years, it provided two years of low-cost fares saving leisure and business travelers money. In the future, the chamber will continue to work with the city to attract additional air service.”

Hullet said fare reductions varied by route but gave the example of an average fare on the Denver route in the nine months prior to Frontier’s arrival. He said the cost was $278 prior. In the nine months after, the average fare dropped to $169 one way, which is a 39 percent reduction.

Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary said he does not know why the airline chose to end service, but hesitated to say a similar incentive package would not be offered to other airlines in the future.

“If we do (offer it), we want to make sure we have guarantees we’re going to have a provider to stay long term,” he said.

Seminary said, in his personal experience, he did notice a reduction in air fares to Denver as a result of Frontier’s service.

“Every Denver Frontier flight I’ve been on is a full flight,” said Megan Leingang, another traveler.

Seminary said he hopes the addition of American Airlines flights to Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth this October will continue that trend in Frontier’s absence.

Frontier said the possibility exists for a temporary return of service in summer 2015 on a seasonal basis, but nothing has been finalized at this time.

“Our hope is they do follow through on the idea of providing seasonal service to our community and region,” Hullet said.

Those customers who booked flights for after Jan. 6 are being given full refunds.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.

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