[caption id="attachment_226392" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Avelo Airlines has quickly ramped up its offerings out of Wilmington Airport to a record 14 destinations. | PHOTO COURTESY OF AVELO AIRLINES[/caption]
NEW CASTLE – In June, elected officials were lamenting Delaware once again being the only state without commercial air service, but on Thursday they were celebrating the largest expansion of service in state history courtesy of Avelo Airlines.What a difference a year makes.
[caption id="attachment_230820" align="alignleft" width="300"] Stephen Williams, deputy director of the Delaware River & Bay Authority that manages the Wilmington Airport, unveils the new Avelo Airlines destinations during an April 20 announcement, | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
The upstart Houston-based airline has found quick success in Delaware, flying more than 25,000 passengers into and out of the now-renamed Wilmington Airport (ILG) off U.S. Route 13 in New Castle to five destinations in Florida. That spurred Avelo to add nine new destinations from Delaware, including five new states, and station a second Boeing 737 airplane here.That growth is the largest single expansion by Avelo in any market and is faster than other successful hubs that it has developed, such as New Haven, Conn., said Trevor Yealy, head of network planning for Avelo.The new destinations include Nashville (BNA), Myrtle Beach, S.C. (MYR); Savannah, Ga./Hilton Head S.C. (SAV); Charleston, S.C. (CHS); Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C. (GSP); Raleigh/Durham, N.C. (RDU); Wilmington, N.C. (ILM); and Daytona Beach (DAB) and Melbourne/Cocoa Beach (MLB) in Florida. Flights to the new destinations, which will leave twice a week, will begin June 22 and feature one-way promotional base fares of $29 to start – like all ultra-low-cost carriers, Avelo charges separate baggage and seat fees.“Winter in Florida is generally a good time of year [for air travel]. We thought that would work, but there was no guarantee. But the response since we started flying has been tremendous,” Yealy told reporters. “That gave us the confidence to say, ‘OK, we can expand. We know people in the Northeast like to go to the Carolinas in the summer and like to go to Nashville. So, let's start expanding there so we can really capture more of that pent up demand.’”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. Comparably, it took rival carrier Frontier Airlines, which only flew to Orlando and left the airport in June 2022, almost 10 months to reach the critical 10,000 enplanement threshold in 2021.“We've watched people say, ‘We're going to fly out of New Castle County Airport’ … and it always flopped. Let's try again. It failed. But great ideas need timing, and I’ve got to tell you the timing this time is killer elite,” Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki remarked during the announcement of the new flights.While many of the new cities are traditional leisure destinations, others could present additional passenger opportunities, either for visiting friends and relatives or business travel. Destinations like Nashville, Raleigh/Durham and Greenville/Spartanburg are near major universities where families may want to visit a student, while Raleigh/Durham is also in the Research Triangle Park that features thousands of biotech, life science and advanced material researchers.
[caption id="attachment_230823" align="alignright" width="300"] Trevor Yealy, head of network planning for Avelo, said strong early sales convinced the airline to invest in Delaware. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Yealy said that about 80% of passengers on the flights originated in Delaware, meaning only about one in five passengers are coming to the First State.“I think over time that will shift a little bit, but we always expect to be a more heavily Wilmington/Delaware Valley-point-of-sale focus,” he noted, adding that it’s harder to market to consumers in destination markets like Orlando where there is lots of competition.One key to Avelo’s Delaware success has been its local marketing, which features billboards on major highways, ads at the Christiana Mall, regional radio spots and giveaways with local chambers of commerce, among other efforts. On Thursday, the airline announced a major sponsorship of University of Delaware athletics as well.In looking at Avelo’s service network, there are some northern destinations like New Haven or Rochester, N.Y., that are not served out of Delaware, but almost every other southern East Coast destination served by Avelo will now fly here, aside from Sarasota, Fla.Yealy said that the airline continues to evaluate new destinations, including to some new locales.“There's plenty of dots on the map that could fulfill more airplanes on this side of the country – East Coast, Southeast, Midwest – and maybe, in the future, perhaps we'll look at something in the Caribbean or something even further west,” he told Delaware Business Times.Gov. John Carney, who credited the work of a number of partners led by airport’s manager, the bi-state Delaware River and Bay Authority, said he was thrilled by the expansion and what it means in helping to sell the First State as a destination for new residents and employers.“This is just really exciting for our state and our region because people, as they make decisions about where to locate their business, want to be in a place that has fun things to do. It doesn't get much more fun than this,” Carney said, noting that he has family members in several of the new markets that he would try to visit via Avelo Airline.To date, Avelo Airline has already hired more than 75 people in Delaware, including airport operations crew members, customer service group members, maintenance technicians, pilots, flight attendants and supervisors. With the addition of a second plane, the airline aims to add at least 35 more, Yealy said.
[caption id="attachment_227361" align="alignleft" width="300"] The former Wilmington-New Castle Airport is now known as simply the Wilmington Airport, and significant renovations are planned by its manager. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Future of ILGWith the booming success of Avelo out of the gate, the DRBA is also planning a physical expansion of the terminal in a project that could cost up to $10 million, according to Stephen Williams, the DRBA deputy director who heads its airports.It filed building plans with the county Wednesday to add nearly 7,000 square feet of waiting area that will allow it to more comfortably fit passengers on concurrent flights and board two flights at once. With Avelo averaging 90% occupancy on flights in March, the current waiting room can fill quickly.Williams said DRBA planned to fund the project through some of its savings, but also through the $4.50 federal surcharge paid by every passenger. It can’t use additional federal funds obtained through the Commercial Service Airport designation, because they are earmarked for safety-related expenses like runways and lighting.The waiting room expansion isn’t the only work by DRBA that has assisted the growth of Avelo, as it completed a $2 million renovation, including a new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint and baggage screening areas, in 2020.
[caption id="attachment_230822" align="alignright" width="300"] New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer has heralded the success of Avelo Airlines, but said it doesn't affect the county's negotiations on a future operation contract. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
The DRBA is currently contracted to operate the airport through June 2025, but New Castle County, which owns the airport, has received other interest from potential bidders in a request for information process last year. County Executive Matt Meyer said that negotiations between the county and DRBA are ongoing, but the success of Avelo doesn’t necessarily change the county’s position.“As you can imagine these extraordinarily legally complicated issues. There are a lot of people who work here; we want to make sure we take care of everyone and want to make sure we do it in a way that enables the airport to grow,” he said. “[The success of Avelo] has been fantastic and we want to see it grow.”Outside of commercial air service, the DRBA is actively marketing the production hangar that was shuttered last year by Dassault Falcon. The French company that repaired, painted and outfitted private jets has a lease that runs to the end of 2024, but the two partners are actively seeking a new tenant, and potentially subleasing the remaining portion of Dassault’s lease, Williams said.“We think that there's still talent in the area from a labor perspective,” he added, noting that such supplementary services to air travel is a major component of the daily work on the airport.
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