With under two months before the launch date, Avelo Airlines said it’s seeing steady bookings at the Salem Municipal Airport, a sign that stakeholders say shows promise the airline will be in it for the long haul.
Flights between Salem, Las Vegas and Los Angeles will start on Oct. 5, a long-awaited step in a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to bring commercial flight back to the state capital. The airport last saw commercial service in 2008, when Delta Air Lines left after a year and a half of service due to the impact of the recession on the industry.
“For bookings, everything is strong. October numbers continue to grow, and nearly 4,000 itineraries have been booked, clearing up a nice chunk of inventory,” said Courtney Goff, communications manager at Avelo Airlines in an email to Salem Reporter.
Avelo’s flights will carry between 150 to 190 passengers on Boeing 737 aircraft.
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 $75 for an adult traveler who doesn’t select seats, including fees, according to the booking website. Bags and seat selection cost extra.
Flights are booking through Feb. 14, 2024, with flights to Las Vegas on Thursdays and Sundays, and service to the Hollywood Burbank Airport on Fridays and Mondays.
On Aug. 10, the airline announced it was expanding its schedule to have multiple Tuesday flights to Burbank, and additional flights around the holidays.
The bookings and expanded schedule are a promising start, said Brent DeHart, chair of the Fly Salem Steering Committee and president of Salem Aviation Fueling, who was involved in the effort to launch commercial flights along with the city and Travel Salem.
“They’re (pre-selling) more than they’ve sold in any of the Western markets, so that’s a great sign,” he said. “It’s my job to worry about everything, I guess. It took us five and a half years, almost six years to recruit a service, so now I’m like ‘Okay, it’s gotta work.’”
DeHart said his company has contracted with Avelo to do ground servicing, which includes fueling, checking bags and loading them into the aircraft. The deal will allow him to hire an additional five part time staff, he said.
DeHart thinks Salem’s population and location in the Willamette Valley have been beneficial to the sales, and noted that flights might not appear full on the Avelo website because most people don’t buy tickets with assigned seats.
He said the first plane on Oct. 5 is full, mostly because people wanted to be a part of the inaugural flight by taking an overnight trip to Las Vegas.
DeHart doesn’t have documentation to prove it, but he thinks he was the first person to buy a flight with Avelo, or at least one of the first. He said he arrived at the airport’s July 13 announcement, saw the tickets were available online, and bought a ticket on his phone before the event began.
DeHart’s ticket wasn’t for the inaugural flight, but for a later trip to see Keith Urban perform in Las Vegas. He booked another trip for a business conference. DeHart said he also knows people who have booked flights to see U2 perform the first ever show in the new futuristic Sphere venue.
DeHart said he expects plenty of sales for flights coming into Salem, too, especially to visit wineries.
If flights to Las Vegas and Las Angeles are successful, the airline plans to add additional locations in Phoenix and the Bay Area, which DeHart expects to happen by next Memorial Day.
DeHart said at this point he’s not concerned that Avelo will leave or reduce service in Salem if initial sales lag, like it has at several east coast airports. In Eugene, the airline opted to reduce Palm Springs service to seasonal routes.
Dayton Daily News in Ohio reported Friday that the airline would be pulling out seven months after beginning air service to the airport. Dayton’s airport manager reported that 91% of the seats were full in June.
“I think those are different situations in airports that have direct competitors,” DeHart said, such as small carriers like Allegiant or Breeze. “I mean, it’s a new airline and they’re going to try different markets.”
He’s expecting the Mid-Willamette Valley and its four initial destinations to be a solid bet, though.
“They’re seeing what we were preaching, that the economy is substantial in the Mid-Valley and growing fast, and so is the population compared to a lot of places that other people are going,” he said.
Avelo also has a guarantee that it will be paid, even if the flights aren’t full. The airline’s agreement with the city includes minimum revenue guarantees, which will pay the airline if flights fail to meet revenue targets during the first two years of operation.
The agreement requires at least two flights per week, with exceptions such as inclement weather.
The minimum revenue expected ranges from $20,167 to $31,167 per round-trip flight, with the Phoenix flights generating the most.The airline would bill the city on a monthly basis to make up the difference between target and achieved revenue, which varies based on flight location.
The funds for payments would come from an $850,000 federal grant and $350,000 grant from Travel Salem, which would be pulled proportionally, meaning for every $10,000 owed the federal grant would pay $7,000 and the local grant would pay $3,000, DeHart said. The Travel Salem grant was funded by private sector donations, he said.
Payments would start after the first month of air service.
Update: A line was added to clarify that the Travel Salem grant was funded by donations from the private sector.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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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.