City News, ECONOMY

Avelo will begin flying from Salem to Las Vegas, Los Angeles in October

Avelo Airlines will begin flights to Las Vegas and Los Angeles this fall, returning commercial air service to Oregon’s capital after a years-long, multi-million dollar effort by the city, local businesses and tourism groups.

The first flight is planned for Oct. 5 to Las Vegas, with twice-weekly flights on Thursdays and Sundays. Flights to Los Angeles, landing at Hollywood Burbank Airport, would initially be on Fridays and Mondays beginning Oct. 6, before shifting to Thursdays and Sundays Nov. 2.

Tickets for the budget airline will start at $39 one way, not including fees and costs for checked or carry-on bags. 

The airline’s announcement came Thursday at an airport terminal packed with reporters, city employees, and tourism and business stakeholders.

The sentiment of the day was “It’s been a long time coming.”

Mayor Chris Hoy delivered his opening remarks flanked by nearly all of Salem’s city councilors.

“I wasn’t always sure we were going to get to this day, but here we are. And for many of us, it’s a big sigh of relief today,” Hoy said.

It’s been 15 years since Salem had commercial air service, with Delta who pulled out in late 2008 after a year and a half of flights.

This time will be different, Hoy told Salem Reporter after the event.

“Back when Delta was here, those were 50-passenger regional jets. And fuel prices went up, and it just wasn’t economical,” he said.

Avelo’s flights will carry between 150 to 190 passengers on Boeing 737 aircraft.

“That’s what’s different. So folks are really focused on the failure, but they don’t look at the detail behind it,” Hoy said. “It’s not because Salem didn’t support it, it’s because it just wasn’t economical anymore.”

Avelo was the one who sought Salem out, Hoy said. 

That was over a year and a half ago, according Courtney Goff, spokeswoman for the airline.

In January, when the Salem City Council committed over $2 million for terminal improvements, construction was projected for completion by mid-May. The funds went to design and construct Transportation Security Administration compliant upgrades to windows, walls and flooring, plus new outdoor canopies and updated bathrooms. 

The money also paid for four months of fire and police service at the airport. Staffing the airport requires hiring new police and firefighters, whose salaries will eventually be paid through a payroll tax city councilors narrowly approved Monday night.

Last spring, the city received a $540,388 state grant to cover equipment and vehicle needs for the project. The airport also received an $850,000 federal grant to use for minimum revenue guarantees, money airlines can apply for if they fail to meet targets during the first few years of operation.

A new baggage cart for transporting luggage at the Salem Municipal Airport on June 13, 2023 (Abbey McDonald/ Salem Reporter)

In May, city leaders hoped to start flights on August 1 at the earliest, though said the airline could opt to launch in the fall. Goff told Salem Reporter that the October start date will allow for time to advertise and fill seats for the first flights.

The city and airline signed a non-disclosure agreement during negotiations, and the airline wasn’t named publicly until Thursday’s conference. Hoy jokingly called it “redacted airlines” when introducing Goff.

Avelo, which launched about two years ago, also serves the Eugene airport, and locations across the country including in Delaware and Orlando. The airline has 16 planes in its fleet, and plans to add four to six more in the coming year.

The airline plans to make Salem a base if passenger counts meet projections, meaning the planes would come to and from Salem rather than being parked somewhere else.

It would also mean hiring and training crew, flight attendants and pilots from the Salem area, Goff said. A base usually starts with around 30 hirings for crew, which grows as they add planes, she said.

The service hopes to directly compete with flights out of Portland and Eugene, including bringing Salem up as an option when shoppers search for tickets at the other airports.

Avelo sought Salem because it was underserved and has a substantial population, Goff said.

“The population is booming here, and we know that it’s not convenient to drive,” she said. After Covid, she said a priority is to draw people in by making travel easier.

Business and tourism representatives were present at the announcement, including wineries who will benefit from the October start date which lands during fall crush season, a major wine tourism event.

“This was an incredible undertaking, not just by the public sector and the incredible work our city staff did,” said Tom Hoffert said CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. He thanked the mayor, council, and City Manager Keith Stahley, but said “it was also the vision of those people in the community that see bigger things.”

“We know the trajectory this community is on. And one of the things that the mayor and I shared in conversation is: you invest in things that are important to you,” he said.

Angie Villery, president of Travel Salem said that she was a little emotional, and that it was an honor to work on the project for over five years. She said the airline launch has already brought interest from conferences and groups, particularly in sports, who plan to come to Salem.

Villery said that Phoenix and San Francisco are “on the radar” for Avelo’s next Salem connections.

“This is like putting a Fortune 500 company right in the middle of the community. The job creation, and just the exponential ripple effect of bringing in new dollars to our local businesses so far on behalf of the entire tourism industry,” she said. “We’re so excited.”

When the flights start in October, Villery said, visitors will come for the fall colors of the Pacific Northwest, wine harvesting and crush season and markets. 

Salem leaders hope Avelo’s launch will be the start, and will generate interest in other airlines joining the municipal airport. 

There will be a community event to celebrate the launch of air service, and Mayor Hoy plans to be among the passengers on the first flight to Las Vegas on October 5. 

Flights from Salem can be booked now at The airline said flights start at $39 one-way plus taxes and fees. A roundtrip flight to Las Vegas and back during the airline’s initial week of service would cost about $100 for an adult traveler booking the plane’s cheapest seats, including fees, according to the booking website.

New fire equipment at the Salem Municipal airport. The vehicles carry more water and special firefighting foam to combat jet fuel-fed blazes (Abbey McDonald/ Salem Reporter)

Previous Coverage

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated when Delta last flew out of Salem. It was 2008, not 2009. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.