Local leaders last fall said it was a big deal that Avelo Airlines was launching new service at the Dayton International Airport and they hoped the airline in the near future would grow its presence at the facility and add service to other destinations.
But instead, less than 10 months later, the Dayton airport’s first new airline in years has decided to pull the plug on its local service to Orlando, Florida, which raises questions about the airport’s ability to attract and retain new air service.
Local leaders say the airport is an extremely important regional asset, and airport officials said the passenger traffic on Avelo’s flights was good and showed there is a strong local demand for air travel to new places.
“Avelo’s arrival tells us that this community is able to fill up larger airplanes and not just regional jets, but a 189-seat passenger plane with no trouble,” said Linda Hughes, Dayton’s air service manager. “The future of Dayton airport is extremely encouraging.”
Avelo likely received financial incentives to operate its service out of Dayton, but local and state organizations declined to specify what kind of support the airline was given.
Off to a good start
Last November, Avelo Airlines and local leaders held a press conference at the Dayton International Airport to announce that the low-cost air carrier would be launching new service from the Gem City to the Orlando International Airport.
The twice-weekly flights took to the skies in mid-January, which became Avelo Airlines’ first route in Ohio.
Avelo’s first flight out of Dayton was completely sold out, which a company representative said had never happened before in the other markets where it started new service.
At the November press conference and another press conference on the day of the inaugural flight, city officials and business and economic development leaders struck a very optimistic tone as they praised the airline and local and state partners for helping bring new air service to the Dayton market.
“Isn’t this a great signal — just one more sign of the vibrancy that’s coming here to this region, and a signal for the future that we are back,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Carolyn Rice.
Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber, said “This is an exciting day — we’ve worked a long time for this.”
“Travelers in Dayton have told us, ‘We want more airlines with more destinations,’” Kershner said. “Well, today we’re delivering on that promise. ... I hope this is just the beginning,”
Dayton Deputy City Manager LaShea Lofton told Avelo representatives, “Your success will continue here — we are confident of that.”
Change of plans
But last week, Avelo said its Dayton-Orlando service was not a success and the airline confirmed that it will be withdrawing from the local airport.
Courtney Goff, communications manager for Avelo, said the Dayton airport did not generate the demand the airline expected.
“In an environment of rising fuel costs, we’re navigating the best way to fly our routes while also ensuring there is enough demand,” Goff said. “This was not the outcome we envisioned when Avelo took flight in Dayton.”
Hughes, Dayton’s air service manager, told this newspaper that Avelo’s “load factors” for flights out of Dayton were doing very well and were growing month-over-month.
Load factor is a measure of the share of available seating capacity that is filled with passengers. Hughes said about 91% of Avelo’s seats were filled in June.
Hughes said she wishes Avelo would have given its Orlando service more time to “mature,” because she believes the airline could have worked toward charging the kind of pricing it wanted.
Hughes said it’s disappointing to lose an airline, but she pointed out that about 7,950 passengers have flown from Dayton to Orlando on Avelo’s flights.
She said that means Avelo’s passenger traffic accounted for less than 2.3% of enplanements at the Dayton airport this year.
Hughes also noted that the Dayton airport still has another twice weekly service to Orlando, through the city’s other major airport.
Hughes also said Avelo’s time in Dayton showed there is sufficient local demand for air service to fill up larger aircraft.
Avelo flies Boeing Next-Generation 737 planes, which have 189 seats.
JobsOhio helped Avelo launch its Dayton-Orlando through its commercial air service restoration program.
The program provides short-term revenue guarantees to airlines to help them restore or start new air service.
Avelo was the fourth airline JobsOhio helped bring to the state through its air service restoration program, which was created during the pandemic, said Terry Slaybaugh, vice president of sites and infrastructure with JobsOhio.
Matt Englehart, press secretary for JobsOhio, said the organization’s agreements and the levels of assistance it provides to airlines are proprietary information.
But he said, “The Air Service Restoration Program is performance-based, and no JobsOhio assistance is provided if the routes are not being flown or are terminated.”
“Along with our local partners, we are working with airlines that are establishing or pursuing new service at DAY as the airport continues to seek additional market opportunities that benefit both business and leisure travel to and from the Dayton region,” he said.
In November, Dayton City Commission approved an air service community partner agreement with the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. This was approved about one week after Avelo announced it was starting service in Dayton.
Under the agreement, the city agreed to provide $200,000 to the Dayton chamber to implement a minimum revenue guarantee deal with JobsOhio.
The city’s $200,000 contribution was going to be leveraged with a JobsOhio grant of $800,000, which means as much as $1 million would be available to airlines if they could not meet revenue projections, Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said back in November.
As part of the minimum revenue guarantee agreement, Dayton and its community partners share the risk of launching new air service along with the air carrier, Dickstein said.
“Dayton will only disperse the $200,000 if it is needed,” she said.
Dayton airport officials referred questions about this funding and the program to JobsOhio and the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Like JobsOhio, the Dayton chamber said it does not share terms of private agreements with its partners.
Avelo also did not immediately return requests for comment about what kind of incentives it received.
Kershner, chamber CEO and president, said, “We will continue to partner with air carriers to make strategic investments and grow air service for our regional business community.”