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Arrangement could pave the way for added flights to and from Medford, an airport official speculates

Horizon to operate Frontier JetExpress

Horizon Air announced a 12-year agreement Thursday with Denver-based Frontier Airlines to operate regional jet service under the name Frontier JetExpress, beginning Jan. 1.

Horizon replaces Frontier's current regional operator, Mesa Airlines. Horizon Air and Mesa Airlines, which operates AmericaWest Express, both serve Medford.

A spokesman for Horizon Air says the move won't impact Horizon's Rogue Valley operations. But airport manager Bern Case sees the deal's potential value to Southern Oregon travelers.

It won't affect us immediately, but it's exciting, Case says. Horizon is postured better than ever to go east and down the road it could help us. Believe me, they're good at taking advantage of the marketplace and it certainly strengthens our position.

— If, for example, Horizon wanted to create a Medford to Denver route it would already have personnel at both ends.

They wouldn't have any start-up costs, Case says.

Frontier JetExpress routes currently include Albuquerque, Austin, Boise, Oklahoma City, Ontario, San Jose, Tucson, and Wichita. Frontier will maintain control of scheduling and destinations. New markets have yet to be determined.

Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas says Horizon will provide FrontierJet with nine regional jets by May 30 compared to the five supplied by Mesa.

Part of the appeal for Horizon is that it serves markets we don't already reach, Hodas says. We get exposure we wouldn't have otherwise.

Under the agreement, Frontier will pay Horizon a base margin and performance-based incentives to operate flights. Horizon pilots and flight attendants will be in the air and its mechanics will maintain the aircraft.

Horizon says it expects eventually to base about 100 pilots, 100 flight attendants and 30 maintenance personnel in Denver.

This is Horizon's first venture as a contract carrier in a business in which Mesa, SkyWest (which handles United Express flights locally) and Great Lakes Airlines are major players.

They just change the color of the planes and keep flying, Case says.

Medford's three regional carriers completed a busy summer, putting the airport on pace for its second-busiest year ever.

The airport logged its fourth-busiest August ever, although it was down 2.76 percent from 2002. The 48,163 passengers who cleared security last month capped an active summer season in which 143,005 people flew out of Medford. The June through August count in 2002 was 139,523.

Case projects that more than 484,500 passengers will pass through the airport this year, second only to the 492,065 that came through in 2000.

Case says that year-to-date the passenger flow is 4.86 percent ahead of 2002. Meanwhile, the Eugene airport, which competes for passengers with Medford, was lagging 5.56 percent behind its 2002 pace.

Horizon with 13 flights, United Express with 11 and AmericaWest Express with two currently combine for 26 arrivals and departures each day, down from a summer-high of 28.

Last year was phenomenal for us because we added Phoenix and Denver, says Case, noting the airport has service to six western hubs. This year, if we can hold on to all the marbles I'll be feeling great in the spring.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail .