My take: About Avelo’s service moves

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For a time, during the Thanksgiving holiday, airline service from Wilmington Airport (ILG) appeared to again be on the ropes.

Published reports indicated that Avelo Airlines temporarily cut service to two warmer Florida destinations during January and February. That wasn’t true. It is possible that the two cities briefly dropped off the website during scheduling updates and the writing process.

It came on the heels of the airline adding service to Sarasota and San Juan, Puerto Rico, while announcing that 200,000 people had flown to and from Wilmington.

Avelo had indeed pared down its winter schedule by suspending flights to Nashville, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, NC, and Daytona Beach from early January until early March. Earlier in the fall, flights to Savannah, Raleigh, and Greensboro were suspended until spring.

Thrown into the mix were reports that Avelo was exiting the “Space Coast” airport in Melbourne, FL, with service being dropped from Wilmington and New Haven.

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Actually, Avelo, after initially announcing flights to the Space Coast airport, never flew to that destination from Wilmington. Still, media reports indicated that Melbourne flights had been dropped from the schedule, contributing to “here we go again” image about Delaware airline service.

News hits social media

The news hit social media with predictions that Avelo service was “good while it lasted,” with a few disgruntled folks chiming in about canceled flights (Avelo has one of the lowest cancellation and flight delay rates in the industry). 

It turns out that scheduled heavy maintenance for one of the two Boeing 737 jets based in Delaware and expected flight cuts to cooler destinations led to a deeper-than-expected schedule reduction – made worse by delays in aircraft deliveries to Avelo. Wilmington accounts for about 12% of Avelo’s 16-jet fleet and about 100 of its nearly 1,000 employees.

In other words, Avelo is still “all in” on Wilmington as it tries to grow in a controlled fashion while not piling up debt or big losses that would require raising more capital from investors. We should know more about the privately owned airline’s finances in the coming months from federal reports.

By contrast, rival Breeze Airways reportedly burned through $174 million at last report with Avelo faring much better, according to the Enilria aviation site.

Nothing can be taken for granted

None of this means that anything should be taken for granted. Competition is brutal in the airline industry. Philadelphia International Airport is less than an hour away from much of its market area, and there is little room for error for an airline with a fleet with an average age of 16 years. 

ILG, formerly New Castle Airport, faces challenges with an old terminal and limited services. Improvements often require a laborious approval process from the feds. Some airports have operated on a “Field of Dreams” (build it, and they will come) terminal construction strategy. Whether Delaware should go that route is a topic for another day.

Avelo’s reliability and focus on no-hassle service (and perhaps the widely publicized customer service woes of Frontier, Spirit, and to some extent, American) have drawn more passengers than expected. 

Word of mouth has been largely positive, something you don’t see with most airlines. This success comes even though travelers looking for Philadelphia-area flights through third-party booking sites will rarely see Avelo options appear on their laptops or mobile devices. 

Going forward, Avelo will need to build the trust of Delaware Valley travelers while delivering affordable fares and reliability. It’s a tall order, but signs, to date, are pointing in the right direction. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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