DENVER — Nearly six years after finalizing their order for the Airbus A320neo, Frontier Airlines has operated its first revenue A320neo flight from Tampa to Denver.
The carrier became the fourth airline in North America to take delivery of Airbus’ re-engined narrowbody after Mexican budget carriers Volaris and VivaAerobus, and US ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Spirit Airlines.
The aircraft, (Wilbur the White Tail • N301FR • MSN 7141), was received by the airline on October 21, after flying from Toulouse to Tampa via Goose Bay in Canada.
Frontier was the original US launch customer for the A320neo. However, certification of the CFM LEAP 1-A engine by the FAA hit a roadblock that was not resolved until two weeks ago. The first A320neo for Frontier remained at the Airbus Delivery Center for several weeks as Airbus, CFM, and the FAA resolved the pending issue.
To date, Frontier operates an all-Airbus fleet of 64 Airbus aircraft, including 25 A319s, 26 A320s and 13 A321s, and has a backlog of 80 A320neo family aircraft on order, now comprised by 18 A319neos and 61 A320neos. The carrier expects to take delivery of two additional A320neos by the end of the year.
Headwinds remain for the A320neo program. The second A320neo for Frontier, (Flo the Flamingo • N302FR • MSN 7181) had its delivery postponed without specific reasons. Airways sources assured that the delay in the delivery may take over a month.
Today We’re Flying With Wilbur
Prior to the flight, a small gate gathering was held with Frontier representatives, revenue passengers, the flight crew, and a Field Service Engineer from CFM. The flight crew posed for photos as A320neo merchandise was given away to those present in the gate area.
Entering the aircraft, passengers were immersed in the “new plane smell.” The Airbus A320neo features a single-class 186-seat layout. This is thanks to the new Airbus Space-Flex option, which moves the two aft lavatories against the rear of the galley, thus gaining space for an additional row of seats into the aircraft.
The new cabin configuration grants Frontier an additional 11% extra seat capacity when compared to the current 168-seat layout, existing in the A320ceo fleet. Although the A320neo has stronger performance characteristics and boasts a longer range, it is unlikely Frontier will treat the new type as a sub fleet until several more aircraft have been delivered.
Before takeoff, Captain Patrick Gordon briefly addressed the mostly empty plane and spoke about the A320neo. Gordon called the inaugural flight a “cool flight for aircraft and engine lovers.” After pushback and a noticeably long engine startup time, we were on our way.
With only a dozen or so passengers, the aircraft was quickly airborne and passing through 10,000 feet in a matter of minutes. During takeoff roll, it was noticeable the quietness of the engines when compared to the current generation aircraft. No doubt passengers will notice the noise difference between the A320neo and A320ceo.
As Tampa is not a catering base for Frontier, the flight had a limited number of drink options and no food was served. Roughly an hour into the flight, the Captain announced the aircraft was using less fuel than projected, and that the aircraft would land in Denver with excess fuel onboard. The remainder of the three and a half hour flight was uneventful and before we knew it, we were on approach into Denver.
After landing in Denver shortly after 23:00 local, the aircraft was met by engineers from Airbus to check the performance data. The flight crew of flight FR2091 converged on the ramp to pose for photos with the game changing aircraft. A fitting scene occurred when the first A320 Frontier took delivery of in 2008 (Yukon • N201FR • MSN 3389), taxied just behind us.
Shortly after the flight, Captain Gordon briefed the Airbus and CFM officials, commenting that the aircraft performed beautifully. After the briefing, N301FR was taxied to the Frontier Airlines hangar in Denver, where it will serve as a backup aircraft at least until November 10th. The aircraft operated the Tampa – Denver run as a revenue flight purely for tax reasons. The airline did the same with the first aircraft sporting the new Frontier livery (Grizwald The Bear • N227FR • MSN 6184).
Frontier Airlines ushered in a new era for commercial aviation in the US with the addition of the A320neo. The ‘neo’ is set to be an economic and efficiency game changer. While passengers will notice little very few changes, the airlines will see the most benefits.
The inaugural A320neo flight for Frontier Airlines was quick and uneventful. And that is just how Frontier likes it.
Disclaimer: Frontier Airlines provided tickets for this flight. As always, our opinions are independent and remain our own.