Frontier Airlines pilots picket corporate headquarters amid contract fight, proposed IPO

Weeks after Frontier Airlines filed for its initial public offering, the pilots at the Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier are taking their contract fight public as well.

More than 250 pilots picketed outside Frontier’s corporate headquarters near Denver International Airport on Wednesday — for the first time ever — demanding that the company “stop the looting” and raise pay to be in line with the market rate for the type of aircraft and routes Frontier pilots fly.

Pilots at Frontier now earn, on average, 60 percent of what their peers do at other airlines, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents Frontier’s 1,100 pilots. That figure includes hourly pay, per diem and retirement.

“These pilots gave up to keep the company out of a second bankruptcy. It’s time for them to get their money back,” said Capt. Tracy Smith, chairman of ALPA’s Frontier pilot group, in an interview before the informational picket. “They’re trained the same. They fly the same. We’re all certified by the FAA to fly the aircraft.”

The union has been in negotiations with the company on a new contract since March 2016. The two parties have been in federal mediation for more than six months.

Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner said the airline appreciates the dedication its pilots have for both the customers and the company.

“We have additional dates scheduled to meet with them,” Faulkner said. “We will continue to work with union leadership to ensure that both they and Frontier have a successful and secure future while recognizing that any agreement must be sustainable.”

Frontier’s IPO filing March 31, aside from validating more than a year of speculation, had the added benefit of making public the privately held airline’s financials —  including its profitability during the transition to the ultra-low-cost carrier model starting in 2014. Frontier is owned by private-equity firm Indigo Partners.

In 2016, the airline reported a profit of $200 million, up nearly 43 percent since 2014. Of Frontier’s $1.7 billion in revenues last year, $726 million came from baggage fees and other nonticket sources, according to the IPO filing.

In a news release, ALPA accused Frontier of channeling “hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to its investors while shortchanging employees and aggressively cutting operational costs.”

“It’s frustrating, but it also tends to solidify your determination, ” said ALPA president Capt. Tim Canoll, who was in Denver for the picket. “We’re not being unreasonable — it confirmed the reasonableness of what we’re trying to achieve.”

The union has also publicly blamed management for Frontier’s recent operational issues, including a high-profile mess in December when a weekend storm in Denver led to the cancellation of 275 flights nationwide and a pile-up of baggage at Denver International Airport. Smith said those kinds of issues will only get worse if pilots begin leaving for better-paying opportunities with other airlines.

“We want it to succeed,” he said. “Every pilot here wants the airline to succeed.”

A “large percentage” of Frontier’s pilots still live in Colorado, choosing the state over bases in Chicago and Orlando even as the airline has decreased its dependence on DIA, Smith said.

In December 2013, more than 90 percent of Frontier flights originated or ended in Denver. In December 2016, that number was down to 45 percent, according to the filing.

“It’s a great airline. It has a great business model,” Canoll said. “They can make it work — but they’re going to have to pay market rates.”

Article Frontier Airlines pilots picket corporate headquarters amid contract fight, proposed IPO compiled by www.denverpost.com

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