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Strong sales boost Avelo Airlines arrival to Delaware

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Avelo Airlines Wilmington New Castle Aiport ILG

Avelo Airlines has already passed the critical 10,000-enplanement level in Wilmington, seeing strong sales to all five destinations. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DRBA

WILMINGTON – Less than three months into its launch of air passenger service in Delaware, Avelo Airlines is celebrating its early success, having sold more than 11,000 tickets here.

“The results in Wilmington have really met or even beaten our most optimistic predictions,” said Travis Christ, head of marketing for the Texas-based ultra-low-cost airline.

Avelo began flying five routes to Florida destinations from Wilmington-New Castle Airport on Feb. 1, and through March 29 had marked 11,266 enplanements, or passenger boardings of commercial flights, from Delaware. When counting arrivals from Florida, the airline has served more than 22,000 passengers.

Comparably, it took rival carrier Frontier Airlines, which only flew to Orlando and left the airport in June, almost 10 months to reach the 10,000 enplanement threshold in 2021.

Critically, Avelo saw an average load factor of 94% in March, meaning planes were virtually full throughout the month, according to Christ. Frontier averaged load factors of about 55% and topped out at 77% in July 2021, according to federal data.

“Nobody expected that. I don’t think Delaware expected it. We didn’t really expect it. But we knew we had a chance if we gave it a try and we do what we do,” Christ said. “We really made a genuine, concerted effort to create awareness and engage with the community.”

Another encouraging sign for Delaware’s new air carrier was the strength of all five destination markets – while Orlando led the way with 27% of passengers, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers and Tampa all saw about 18% of passengers.

Christ credited that success with Avelo’s business model of low fares with full-sized planes in target underserved markets, but also the post-pandemic way of life. As many people have retired to Florida after COVID, Christ said the airline has been hearing from passengers using it to commute back home.

“We’re benefiting from that back and forth tremendously,” he said.

Avelo is still considering new destinations out of Wilmington, but it is constrained at the moment by a lack of airplanes, Christ said.

“We fly newer used aircraft and there’s a lot of demand for them worldwide right now, so it’s a challenging market,” he explained.

For a potential look at the future though, Avelo is looking to the playbook of New Haven, Conn., where it restarted the city’s air service in November 2021. Today, it flies to 17 destinations from the hub, including Chicago, Nashville, and Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Hilton Head, S.C., along with many stops in Florida.

Unlike New Haven, one advantage for Wilmington is the full size of its runway, allowing planes to fly in more adverse weather conditions, Christ said. The DRBA has also already completed some terminal upgrades prior to Avelo’s arrival and the partners have been discussing further needs, Christ said.

“It’s certainly possible that we’re going to need some work there to make sure that, if we are able to get these airplanes and start flying, that we’re able to support it from that perspective,” he said, noting larger waiting, ticketing and baggage areas along with parking may be needed with additional flights.

With Avelo’s success, the DRBA is receiving some funding support that could make those upgrades easier.

In surpassing 10,000 enplanements, the airport once again crosses a critical threshold that categorizes Wilmington as a primary commercial service airport, allowing it to receive an additional $850,000 in federal funding support. The airport, owned by the county and operated by the bistate Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA), is the only primary commercial service airport in the state and one of only 383 nationwide.

“We’re proud to achieve this milestone again and, if the trend in demand continues, 50,000 enplanements will be quickly on the horizon,” said Stephen D. Williams, deputy executive director of the DRBA, in a statement.

If the airport can reach that 50,000-enplanement threshold, it would be eligible for millions more in federal support. It will also receive revenue from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Passenger Facility Charge program, which is currently authorized to collect up to $1.3 million until 2024 with each passenger boarding earning a net of $4.39.

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