Zooming In On Why Avelo’s New Base at New Haven Should Be a Winner

Avelo

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.

47 comments on “Zooming In On Why Avelo’s New Base at New Haven Should Be a Winner

    1. Exactly. It was constructed by the New York Central Railroad and was the terminus of the lines into NYC, hence the given name of “Terminal” versus “station” however station is used colloquially, or even more common would just be “Grand Central.”

      It’s been a while since I’ve been on a subway line through there, but I think the announcements might refer to “Grand Central Station” but I’m not recollecting.

      1. Grand Central Station as a name is still in use, but it refers to the post office on the NE corner of the complex. The train station is very much GCT.

      2. FYI Announcements & visual displays just refer to it as Grand Central. Also New Haven Union Station is one of the busiest Amtrak stations in the country with NEC/ Springfield & Vermonter lines including Acella service. For commuter service there’s Metro-North of course, but there’s also Shoreline East to New London via the NEC & a recent addition Hartford Line that also runs to Springfield.

    2. I lived in NYC for 13 years and most locals say “station”. Not sure why, just habit or because it includes non-terminal subway service.

      But a hat-tip to your pedantry! (Not being sarcastic, I do it too.)

  1. AA had CLT service briefly as well, but also not great volumes. Also, the timing of the current service is abysmal.

    Also keep in mind that HVN applied for $800k on SCASDP grant funds and would match with another $400k locally to offset the $1.2M Avelo investment, should the Feds approve.

    The airport also seems to think that WAS and CHI have sufficient PDEWs to support standalone service, which doesn’t entirely match the Avelo model, other than carrying paying pax where they want to go. It could be a very interesting twist to the model.

    1. Besides the obvious choices of BWI and IAD (which I think have relatively low fees), Manassas, Virginia has a 6,200 foot runway and is located conveniently to the affluent northern Virginia counties of Fairfax, Loudon, Prince William and Stafford. It’s 28 miles SSW of IAD, 42 miles west of DCA, about 40 miles from downtown DC and 30 miles from the Tyson’s Corner edge city.

      I considered College Park, MD as it’s in a great location and a busy GA airport but it has a really short runway.

  2. I know Frontier just announced some service. But ILG could be a way for Avelo to snipe some AA PHL traffic.

  3. I actually remember flying ORD – HVN on a United 737 back in the 1990’s. The runway was able to handle the 737 (I forget if it was a -200, -300, or -500) even the time I flew in a snow storm. The airport was so small, it didn’t have a baggage conveyor belt. All the bags were put onto a tilted metal shelf like oversized bags at many other airports.

    As you stated, HVN is in the middle of a residential neighborhood and I’m pretty sure the neighbors aren’t thrilled to see more air service out of there. It’s very inconvenient to get there from the Connecticut Turnpike and traffic on the Turnpike is a nightmare at rush hour. Even the new terminal will be tricky to get to and from from the Turnpike. IMO, if I was in Fairfield County, I would rather make the trek over the Whitestone Bridge to LGA or JFK and take a non-stop to most anywhere in the world. In New Haven itself, it’s about only an hour to Bradley. I-91 is about 58 miles from New Haven to the Mass border in Enfield since Connecticut is so small. BDL was placed at almost the midpoint between Hartford and Springfield, MA. Plus, it’s super easy to get to because there is a freeway that goes from I-91 to the front door of the airport.

    At some point, New Haven has surpassed Hartford as the second largest city in Connecticut. It is in a growing area of a very stagnant state. If New Haven wants to be more accessible for travelers, it really needs to figure out how to either make HVN work or try to find a spot to build a new one granted there is no vacant land to its north.

    1. Southbay – According to T100 data via Cirium, the flight started out in May 1991 as a 737-300 but in later years it was mostly 737-500 until it ended in April 1996. I imagine the 737-300 had to take weight restrictions, but that airplane was probably never full so that wasn’t likely a problem.
      Looking back at load factors, it only exceeded 60 percent during two months. In Aug 1991 it hit a high of 62.82%. The other one was Jul 1994 when it was on a 737-500.

      1. That sounds about right. I think once I took the flight and it was quite full since I had a middle seat in front of the lav as a standby. But, the other times, I had no one in the middle. Once when the flight was cancelled due to snow, I was able easily reschedule for the next day and I had the whole row to myself.

        Needless to say, it was not a success for United.

    2. “At some point, New Haven has surpassed Hartford as the second largest city in Connecticut. It is in a growing area of a very stagnant state. If New Haven wants to be more accessible for travelers, it really needs to figure out how to either make HVN work or try to find a spot to build a new one granted there is no vacant land to its north.”

      The issue is both density along the NEC as well as it’s high land value in almost every community from Greenwich to Old Saybrook. The only exceptions to this are Bridgeport & New Haven itself.

      Both cities have density, but much lower land values for obvious reasons. However thanks to massive investments by Yale University in recent years, things in New Haven are slowly improving especially in the downtown area near the Green with renovated storefronts & ever expanding education, research & medical facilities around town. That said, there’s still a lot of work needed to be done to improve the cities image. A better airport & new service will be a catalyst for that change.

  4. I may be mistaken, but this sounds like it’s right out of Allegiant’s playbook. Based on my limited knowledge, I tend to agree this service has a good shot to do well. But if a 737-700 can work for Avelo, wouldn’t an A319 work just as well for American?

    1. DesertGhost – American might be able to do it with an A319 but that would be a very bad idea to connect New Haven with Florida (or elsewhere that’s not a hub). Miami? Meh, possibly, but I doubt that’s where Avelo will go. The bigger issue is the ULCCs, and I’m not so sure a fully -loaded A319 in ULCC config could do this regularly.

        1. Desert – Oh, I understand now. Well, they tried it with regional jets, weekly pre-pandemic and then flirted with a brief daily attempt last year.
          I’m guessing that most people would rather take a nonstop from a different airport than connect through Charlotte. But whatever it was, if they can’t fill up an rj, then a 319 isn’t going to work.

  5. Quite surprising to me that JetBlue has not announced anything here since the trees were cut down. E90 to Florida from HVN seem like they’d be winners.

  6. Here is the big problem, the runway is not that short.

    Comparable to Burbank or Orange County, and key west which is shorter and has plenty of service. So if a major airline thought the demand was there then they would operate a main line aircraft. But the fact that other than 5 weekly flights on eagle that should indicate that there is no demand. Also as for the surrounding population centers each has substantial service, white planes to the south, Hartford to the west, and providence to the north. I think the demand will be limited at best. Probably similar to Stuart in Newburg.

    1. There is demand but AA choose PHL instead of CLT. Both BDL and PVD show flights to CLT having about 3 times the number of seats compared to PHL. I flew a CRJ-700 CLT-HVN and the load was good. AA gave the PHL flights terrible flight times but come June, much better allowing for more connections. As far as the runway, the displaced threshold is due to be moved backed allowing 5600 feet in both directions. HHH has a 5000 foot runway with displaced thresholds of 297 and 403 feet and they handle quite a number of flights and distances. Over the last few years the state of CT. has pulled out all the stops to prevent HVN from extending its runway and I feel they are offering incentives to some airlines to stay out of HVN. Just my thoughts on that because I can’t see why UA does not run CRJ-550’s to ORD and DL E-175’s to ATL. 2-3 flights to ORD and ATL would be very popular, in the 90’s the UA 737 flights I took from ORD to HVN were oversold and went asking for volunteers. Still waiting for Avelo to announce its destinations. By the way, some of AA’s PHL flights are booking 50 to 70 passengers and that is with the lousy connecting times. When AA restarted the HVN-PHL flights, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays they offered no same day connections, all were the next day.
      HVN is minutes from I-95 and I-91 and a better selection of airlines and flights would end the the dependence on BDL. As far as international flights, JFK and BOS bracket most of the population base of the state.

  7. Interesting, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that Brett would like this! But I’ve come around to his conclusion, especially how it appears to be in a sweet spot geographically.

    HVN is the following distance from the following airports: HPN (54 miles), BDL (56), LGA (81), JFK (87), SWF (93), PVD (94) and EWR (99).

    it’s quite a bit further from Westchester and Bradley than I thought. Plus these mileage figures involve heavy traffic and bridges. You certainly can’t assume you could do 60 miles in an hour in this region. I’d think one would have to plan at least 2 or 2.5 hours to get to LGA.

    Will be very interesting to see the destinations from HVN and whether they try to target any of the local PDEWs or keep it strictly limited to vacationland.

    How about a transcon to Burbank? Just kidding!

    1. The parents of one of my friends live in Orange, a town a bout 6-miles west of New Haven. If there were frequent flights to greater Orlando where they have a condo or Fort Lauderdale where their older sons family resides, I think they would travel from HVN rather than schlep to LGA or JFK as it would be easier on everyone.

      1. I’d put money on the existence of a HVN-SFB (Orlando Sanford) flight in the near future. That one’s a no brainer, will be interesting to see what other destinations are offered.

        1. Bill – I actually wouldn’t bet on that. If you have a secondary market like New Haven on one end, you might need to fly to MCO on the other end or people might not bite.

          1. Let me add that MCO is in expansion mode with a new terminal. Known as terminal C, the building will contain 20-plus gates & will house JetBlue as it’s primary carrier. What makes this interesting is once B6 & others move to that terminal, Avelo might be able to find a few gates open up there or in another concourse so a route from such places as HVN maybe possible.

            1. Interesting. I wonder what the difference between the two is in terms of fees and other expenses?

          2. It’s all secondary to secondary on the left coast though. I figured if Allegiant managed to convince everybody from Sioux Falls and thereabouts that they could still pay homage to the rat from SFB that Avelo could do likewise. We’ll know soon enough!

            1. Bill – True on the west coast, but that’s because the primary markets are already busy with BUR-SLC on Delta (and Southwest was going to start) plus PHX on American and Southwest. They won’t have that problem on the east coast, so I’d think they’d want to go right into the primary from New Haven.

            2. Replying to CFs reply below:

              Is the expense appreciably different for a carrier to operate a few flights a week out of a secondary airport vs a primary? For example I know you’ve discussed how expensive MIA is vs FLL.

              As a ULCC I’m sure they are doggedly watching every penny that goes out but OTOH, if their operations are relatively small, is that expense difference enough to influence the decision regarding which airport to serve?

            3. Bill – It can definitely make the difference for a ULCC. I don’t think Orlando vs Sanford is really a good example of that. Orlando isn’t all that expensive with cost per enplanement under $10, but it will rise up to $14, or at least that’s predicted. Still, it’s nothing like what was a mammoth difference between Miami and Fort Lauderdale (which has come down now). But when you’re talking about fares under $50, those pennies make a huge difference, far more than if you’re flying a widebody to somewhere far away.

          3. ROA has Allegiant to SFB and St Pete and they do very well and have been in the market for well over 10 years and the metro population is much less than HVN’s.

            1. Steve – I see Roanoke as totally different. ROA isn’t a secondary airport. It’s the primary airport for people in Roanoke. The nearest airport with Orlando service is 100 miles away in Greensboro, and even that has less-than-daily service on Spirit. You need to go 150 miles away to Raleigh/Durham to get any decent Orlando service. Nobody is driving to Roanoke unless it’s the most convenient airport for them. But for people who live in, say, Norwalk, CT, New Haven is 35 miles away and LaGuardia is 40 miles away. If you have to fly to SFB or PIE, you might just say forget it and drive to LGA instead. It’s more competitive when you’re trying to attract people with multiple airport options.

  8. As a CT resident in northern Fairfield County, I would fly out of HVN if there were places I can go from there, since it’s much closer than HPN and BDL. However, it’s going to have the same issue where I would need a connection to go anywhere beyond hub cities, not to mention ULCC level pay-for-each-service (You have to pay for a carry-on bag and sit in a non-recline seat? pfffft).

  9. I think these are the DL 737-700s which would make even more sense since Delta bought them to operate from STOL (EYW) and hot/high fields (UIO).

  10. Regarding the “Hartford” airport, note that it’s the Hartford-Springfield airport… I’m not trying to be pedantic here at all, but that’s what BDL is usually listed as in airline timetables, and it’s listed that way for a reason. BDL is literally only one town away from MA, and this is CT, so they are small towns in terms of distance.

    Very, very few people in western Fairfield County travel out of BDL, as by the time you make it up there, you can get to LGA and (depending on traffic and particulars) even JFK or even EWR.

    HPN is relatively convenient for those in the area, but has very limited nonstop options, and, as noted, tends to be $$$$$… Even the parking there is expensive, more than LGA, at $30+ a day for on-airport parking, and the airport is small enough that there is little, if any, off-airport parking. When I lived in the Westchester County and flew out of HPN, I would park at a friend’s house in White Plains or Greenwich and Uber in.

    New Haven is a bit farther east than I’d really like to capture the true NYC crowd, but in terms of capturing the northeastern NYC suburbs (from roughly White Plains eastward), it should work, and there are plenty of people making good money (but not “flying on Gulfstream jets” money) in the area, between the NYC commuters, the hedge funds, and all the corporate HQ in the area. Also worth noting that there are a fair number of people with summer homes on the coast in Eastern CT, plus a couple of very big (if not nationally known) casinos in SE Connecticut, so that may help reduce seasonality a little.

    I’m with Cranky. The more that I think about this, the more I like it…. Not saying Avelo can’t/won’t screw this up if they aren’t smart, but there aren’t many airports like this in the country that have little existing service, barriers to entry, and such a large population within a relatively small geographical area, with limited competing airports.

    1. It always drove me crazy when the airline display board stated Hartford – Springfield CT since it’s Springfield, MA. It’s also almost always referred to by locals by it’s name – Bradley and it’s code is BDL. I forget that Windsor Locks borders Suffield, CT which then borders Agawam, MA. Last time I flew into BDL, the approach came over Springfield and if I was on the right side, I could have seen Riverside Park.

      1. Yup. I’m dating myself, but I used to remember when flying out of BDL required driving past acres and acres of fields growing tobacco leaves for cigar wrappers, as “Connecticut” is one of the main categories for the pretty leaves used to wrap cigars. Haven’t flown out of BDL in many years, but have heard that those fields are long gone or close to it, given the land values in even “rural” parts of CT (“rural” being a relative term in CT).

    2. HPN has off-site parking at Purchase College. $15/day. Just learned that myself prior to taking my first trip out of HPN.

  11. I used to live in Stamford, CT and did a TON of (international) business travel as well as commute on the Metro North and Amtrak. We are of course entering the post-pandemic world, and so things may have and will change. But when I was there, two types of travelers existed (roughly): business travelers (as that corridor is home to the worlds banking and financing elite) and Florida flyers. I think the second category is a potential target but doubt they will choose Avelo over their AA, DL, B6 or UA options at the other airports as they value their lounges and first class amenities too much, because they are the business travelers on other days…

    1. As you noted, the people who are in both categories will definitely stick to their preferred airlines and airports.

      Avelo will pursue those people who are solely in the second category as they have no allegiance to anything but price.

      1. True, but the wealth in this area isn’t just between Westchester County, Greenwich & Westport, but it extends as far east as Westbrook & Old Saybrook. This is the catchment area that Avelo is banking on & with a new terminal in the works this should turn out well for them.

  12. Way to think outside the box Avelo. I hope it works out I think the chances are better than 50/50 that it will.
    My question/observation is how many of these tertiary untapped airports are left underserved? Sure…there’s Gary, Mid-America, Rockford, Palmdale, Lakeland, etc but they have been tried before and failed for a reason. Eventually Avelo, and long awaited Breeze, are going to have to go head to head with legacies and other ULCCs with much deeper pockets. The second component is that all of this leisure flying is great….as long as the economy holds. What’s going to happen during the next recession when people can’t afford to pay the big sticker price to see the Mouse or do a long weekend in Florida/wine country/skiing/chilling in the mountains.

    1. Eric – It’s a good question, and I know they have more in mind. I just don’t know how many. The list is even smaller than you mention for one big difference. Gary, Mid-America, Rockford, Palmdale, and Lakeland are all less convenient to the vast majority of the population. Burbank and New Haven are more convenient. So they need to find airports that are secondary airports that are actually more convenient to a good chunk of population. I can’t wait to see what else is on their list.

  13. Southern CT, via HVN, is the U.S.’s most well-populated but underserved air market. During 2018 and the first half of 2019, HVN was a strong performer for AA with 80- to 90% load factors. At that time, AA service was PHL 3x daily and CLT 1x weekly. By summer 2019, there was a mix of CR2, CR7, and 175 aircraft. In August 2019, AA upgauged to exclusively Republic 175s. (175s were also driving much-increased service to significant stage lengths at EYW and HHH, each with 600 ft-shorter runways.) For the last half of 2019, however, HVN load factors slipped due to lack of promotion. Not enough people in the catchment area knew of the excellent, on-time, reliable service that AA was providing. As a result, AA HVN schedule frequencies were cut, further exacerbated greatly by Covid in 2020. It is highly likely that the 2021 arrival of Avelo will spotlight the potential of HVN to successfully support both a ULCC and the broader worldwide connectivity of AA (or additional legacy carriers).

  14. Outsiders do not know the layout of the land just by looking at Google Earth. Ridiculous. Article fails to mention that the new road has existing flood problems because it is in a wetlands/marsh plain for over 20 years. East Haven: it rains, it floods, traffic cannot get thru. No one east of Norwalk, CT (“affluent”) is coming to New Haven with the traffic density on I-95 to catch a plane in the summer going north! Mayor Carfora has failed to show any map or drawing to the community. He lost a Chairman on Economic Development Commission for omission of info on May 10th…. 4 days after announcement. Let’s not keep the public in the dark. Open public forums and form an East Haven Tweed Subcommittee under Econ Devt.

  15. Reply to CF, I was not factoring in Norwalk, but from Bridgeport to Old Saybrook on the shoreline and inland for about 20 miles make up a large market to draw from. AA is making the PHL flights arrive and depart at much better times in June. They put a bad schedule on the PHL flights to make the case for pulling out of HVN. Even with the bad times, flights are showing good load factors and I feel AA will reevaluate their plans to stay at HVN. Last July they planned for 2 daily R/T’s to CLT, a much better hub and much more popular with flyers at BDL and PVD, almost 3 times as many seats from those airports to CLT than PHL. Hoping for AA to return CLT service.

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