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Salem Airport Partnership with Avelo takes shape
Airline startup expanding, but not without growth pains
City of Salem officials unveiled recently the much-anticipated airline that would anchor the relaunch of commercial air travel to the Salem Municipal Airport.
Ultra-low cost airline startup Avelo Airlines will partner up with city officials to roll the dice on another chance for limited commercial service for the Salem area.
Avelo is no stranger to gambling, though. In fact, the entire company is essentially a bet. A February 2023 profile of the company in TIME magazine describes Avelo and similar startup Breeze Airways as both motivated by the same theoretical opportunity:
Now that the migration to superstar cities has slowed, if not reversed, two new airlines are betting on the idea that they can build a successful national business by focusing on the rest of the country. Both launched in 2021, the two are the first new airlines to be founded in the U.S. in 14 years.
Essentially, the TIME article explains, Avelo is filling a perceived gap in service created by the hub-and-spoke approach of the handful of major national airlines. As economic conditions lead to emptier cities, the hubs were seeing fewer passengers and it was getting way too expensive to maintain routes to all the spokes. Fewer and fewer flights were scheduled for the regional connector airports.
Customers are left with either very expensive/infrequent connecting flights or having to travel into major metro areas to access convenient commercial air travel.
So…in steps Avelo Airlines.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat know how to use Google and found out that “avelo” is Spanish for hazelnut. Folks, if that’s not top-notch local journalism, I don’t know what is. Anyway, SKP is entirely reader-supported. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
They, with competitors like Breeze Airways, are connecting these smaller, regional airports together with low-cost, low/no-frills air travel.
That’s it. That’s the wager. It’s a pretty typical scenario, as far as startups go.
So, how’s the gamble working out for Avelo Airlines so far after more than 2 years in existence? Ups and downs. Strikes and gutters, it seems.
It’s arguable Avelo is going nuts in Delaware, with record-setting expansions in service for travelers using Wilmington Airport.
Avelo has reportedly “doubled down” on its Las Vegas service by making it the newest of its six U.S. “bases” - basically a hub that they don’t want to call a hub because that’s what the bigger airlines call it. A “base” in Avelo’s terms is basically an airport where they keep a few planes. Salem, for example, will not host any Avelo aircraft, but rather they will fly in and out of the publicly funded airport.
The type of people that write budget airline reviews seem to (kinda) like Avelo. Some dude had a decent flight out of Kalamazoo. Another person wrote about a perfectly mediocre inaugural flight with Avelo out of Wilmington, DE.
But it’s not all growth and good vibes for Avelo.
It’s harder to find behind the walls of glowing press releases and back-slapping accolades, but Avelo Airlines has quietly packed up and left a few airports in small markets across the U.S. And usually for the same reason - costs are too high and there’s not enough passenger volume to support continued flights.
Avelo lasted 7 months at Northern Colorado Regional Airport, when they suspended service from the Fort Collins-based to Las Vegas and Burbank, California about a year ago - the same two destinations being offered by Avelo from the Salem Municipal Airport. From the Coloradoan:
“Airport Commission Chairman Don Overcash said it was ‘unfortunate that rising fuel costs and a tight economy have impacted Avelo and other airlines across the U.S., making it hard for them to be competitive and provide the same level of service to passengers.’”
Earlier this year, in February 2023, Avelo Airlines cited lack of demand in suspending service at the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky. They had been in operation for just 4 months.
Around the same time, Newport News-Williamsburg Airport bid adieu to Avelo flights. The reason, attributed to Avelo officials, was a familiar one. The market had “not been generating the demand we expected and has been underperforming in future bookings.”
Airline industry watchers saw trouble with Avelo early on, pulling out of two of its major locations after just three months after launching the organization - Grand Junction, Colorado, and Bozeman, Montana. Again, the airline claimed that low demand made servicing these locations economically infeasible.
Will Avelo survive at the Salem Municipal Airport?
C’mon man, it’s called gambling. Who knows if there’s a payoff for Avelo Airlines? Who knows if there’s a payoff for Salem and the public funds city officials decided to dedicate to airport renovations?
We do know one thing. There’s one sure-fire way this fails - if there’s not enough passengers to justify Avelo servicing the Salem-area market.
And we also know one other thing - Avelo won’t hesitate to back out of the deal the first whiff they get of dwindling passenger volume. They’re a startup - they have to move quickly to survive.
Let’s all hope City of Salem officials and all of the groups that successfully lobbied for the allocation of millions of dollars of public funding have a creative, efficient plan to convince passengers to fly Avelo from Salem.
So far, interest in booking Salem flights seems to be light
Avelo Airline flights are scheduled to start in October 2023 (a couple months later than initially expected) with service to Las Vegas and Burbank twice a week.
So far, Avelo’s website shows some interest in the inaugural Las Vegas flight from Salem on October 5, 2023. Of the 201 seats offered, only about 50 (or around 25%) of them were still open (as of July 18, 2023). That interest is likely local officials and other invitees and dignitaries participating in the inaugural flight.
The next scheduled trip from Salem to Las Vegas is October 8, and that flight shows 176 seats open of the 201 total seats available (around 88% of seats unbooked).
The inaugural flight to Burbank, California, on Friday, October 6, shows only 22 seats booked, with 179 still up for grabs - nearly 90% of seats unbooked so far. Subsequent flights to Burbank from Salem through mid-October show just a handful of occupied seats each flight.
Generally speaking, early interest seems to be much higher in flights from Salem to Las Vegas. And based on early booking activity, it seems like the Thursday flights to Vegas are more popular than the Sunday departures.
But, of course, there’s still more than two months for Avelo and Salem to fill those early flights. So these booking numbers should be considered a very early and tentative look at interest in commercial airline service at Salem Municipal Airport.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat wouldn’t use public funds to gamble on an airline startup. We would use public funds to build light rail that connects cities up and down the Willamette Valley. Until we somehow get the power to make that decision, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber in the meantime.