TheAirchive.net is sponsoring today’s post. Since we’re talking about New Haven today, I decided to go and look through the website’s enormous archives to see what kind of old service I could dig up. American was in the market from long, long ago. It actually served New Haven from the early days, and I think this map from the 1950s was toward the end of its service from Boston to New York that stopped in no fewer than three cities in Connecticut, including New Haven. American was gone for years until it returned via Philly through the US Airways merger. You can go digging around yourself at TheAirchive.net.
Avelo only launched last month, but as expected, it has now announced its second base which will start some time during the summer. This one — New Haven on the south shore of Connecticut — is way on the other side of the country from its first Burbank base, but I actually like it better. To understand why, we need to zoom in. So, let’s start by looking at the big picture and work our way down.
First we can just look at the obvious measure, population density. You don’t need this map to know that New York City is the epicenter of population density inside the Northeast, which is the most dense part of the country.
That’s great and all, but for those outside of the Northeast, where exactly is New Haven? It’s on the Connecticut coast, about a third of the way in from the New York border to the Rhode Island border. And when you look at Connecticut overall, that’s a very good place to be.
Here is a map of Connecticut, the little state that it is. There are really two population centers. The first is around Hartford and the second is along the coast, primarily in the southwest corner which acts a New York suburb. How much of a suburb is it? The Metro-North Railroad has a commuter train that goes from Grand Central Station to New Haven. You’ll find New Haven on the above map surrounding that bay, just to the upper left of the 1.7 million number. The airport sits on the east side straddling New Haven and East Haven.
The area I highlighted in green above is a somewhat arbitrary line, but it’s meant to isolate the towns closer to the coast in the southern half of the state. That has just about 1.7 million people, or nearly half of the states 3.5 million population.
This is probably a conservative view of New Haven’s catchment considering that Hartford’s airport is well north of the city, in exactly the place you wouldn’t want it to be in order to be attractive to those along the coast. But you get the point, there are a lot of people here. And not only are there are a lot of people here, but there are a lot of wealthy people here.
The above map zooms in on the southern coast, and you can see that the southwest corner of the state is “very affluent.” Of course you don’t need “very affluent” to make a low-cost operator work. That helps since it means they’ll probably travel more often and opt for convenience moreso than price, but Connecticut has the third highest median wage of any state at nearly $47,000, so there is a lot of demand to tap here even among those near state average.
What makes it even more attractive is the general dearth of options in the area. Those in the southwest of the state can go to Westchester (HPN) which is just across the border, as shown in the map above, but Westchester is constrained and has few low fare options. There are several airlines flying from there to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, but if you want to go to Florida, JetBlue is your only option. And JetBlue isn’t exactly in ULCC territory here. Here’s an example.
Sure, if you have the luxury of traveling on a weekday in September, you can get a basic economy fare of just shy of $150 roundtrip to Orlando. But regular economy is $228 roundtrip… on the most off-peak day imaginable during the year for Florida travel. A look at Saturday July 10 for a week’s stay is more than $550 per person. HPN is not a low fare airport, and this means Avelo has an enormous canopy to be able to bring down fares.
Of course, there’s Hartford for those in the north of the state and Providence for those in the east, but those are also further away from the coast. And yes, there’s New York which has plentiful service, but is a nightmare from a passenger experience perspective. Travelers need to get to the airports earlier, and they have to deal with the usual air traffic control delays. There’s also a whole lot of traffic to fight since public transit isn’t a great option from Connecticut to those airports. New Haven becomes very attractive with the right flights.
That’s not to say that New Haven doesn’t have its problems. The most annoying one that won’t be fixed is road access. Take a look.
Today, the terminal on the west side requires exiting I-95 and driving through real, actual neighborhoods to get to the terminal. The terminal itself is across the street from homes. It’s a mess. The terminal is also really small and not very functional. Plus, the runway is short. This all sounds bad, right? Well, I see it differently. This all creates a defensible fortress for Avelo, and that is exciting for any new airline.
New Haven has been trying to lengthen its runway for some time, but the neighbors have fought it through and through. Legal options were finally exhausted in March 2020 when the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, so now the airport can move forward. Avports, which runs the airport, is pushing ahead on the plan to extend the runway and build a new terminal. Here’s what that will look like.
When this is done, the airport will have a larger, functional terminal that sits on the east side instead of the west. The residents should love this since that’s a business area, so it will sit further away from the houses. It should also help with access by routing traffic on larger streets designed for business access.
The runway will also grow from 5,600 feet to 6,635 feet. This will enable a lot more service on other airlines to go to a lot more places, but it won’t be done for some time. That means Avelo is cornering the airport for a couple years and will get a very welcome head start.
The current terminal is probably the biggest constraint. Right now, there’s room since the only flight is on American 5x weekly to Philly. In fact, New Haven was one of the airports that American threatened to leave if government funding wasn’t extended, so it’s not like this is doing well for the airline at all. Part of the problem is that American can’t really go very far due to the short runway, and Philly is far from the airline’s best connecting hub.
Avelo is going to move in and spruce up the existing terminal with a $1.2 million investment, presumably maxing out capacity in that space until the new facility opens. That keeps competition out.
Then there are the runway constraints. Avelo is acquiring 3 737-700s for its New Haven base. That may seem strange since Avelo has 737-800s at its current Burbank base, but there’s a reason. The 737-700 has much better runway performance and can fly further with a full load. Avelo tells me it has picked up aircraft that are about 12 years old and in “excellent” condition. I’m guessing these are probably former Southwest aircraft, and this thread on airliners.net would confirm it to be true.
Though routes haven’t been announced, I have to assume that Florida will be a big part of the initial batch of flying. If you want to succeed in the northeast with leisure flying, Florida is number one on the list. Avelo can do it. Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant with their Airbus aircraft can’t, at least not with a full load on longer distances. Even if they could, I can’t imagine they’ll be able to get terminal space.
All of this means that Avelo has built in protection until the expansion work is done. By then, it’ll already be well-entrenched in the community, if it does things right. And that’s why I like this better than Burbank. A defensible fortress is the best thing an airline can do to help it get through the initial start-up phase. Yes, people need to show up and buy these tickets. That isn’t a guarantee for a new airline at a little-known airport, but I like the airline’s chances.