For a smaller airport attracting a new airline operation is a big deal. Coming out of a pandemic where service was slashed to nil, the value of a new operation is even greater. Securing status as a hub or focus city for a new low cost carrier operation would be a massive win. But all of those goals seem quaint to the Tweed-New Haven (HVN) Regional Airport Authority. The airport wants more.
More than half of New Haven’s passengers fly via one of the “big three” New York City airports. Only one percent fly from Tweed. That’s something the local airport authority wants to see change in a major way. It hopes to secure a position as focus city for two new airlines, and it wants some help from the US government in that effort.
There are several factors that make 2021 a great year to start a new airline, considering both market and cost. Cheaper aircraft, better deals from suppliers, plenty of experienced pilots, cabin crew and mechanics looking for new jobs – even if it means making less money than at their old employers. Competitors will generally be much weaker and smaller than before the pandemic. There will be untapped markets that have been abandoned during the crisis, like HVN. The problem of finding more underserved city-pairs, very prevalent in the U.S. low-cost market up until 2019, is a non-issue for now. Startups will likely have to be fast to enter these markets before the incumbents return.-Tweed’s application for the SCASDP grant funds
A pair of new airlines intend to launch this Spring, and New Haven is hoping they choose coastal Connecticut as a key destination. Banking on an $800,000 grant from the Small City Airport Service Development Program (SCASDP), New Haven is putting together an incentive package to attract airlines to its waterfront facilities.
The airport operates with just a 5,600 foot runway, which creates some challenges. But the potential new entrants don’t seem to think it will be a problem.
In 2018 former United Airlines and Allegiant executive Andrew Levy acquired Xtra Airways, mostly for its operating certificate. It changed its name to Avelo Airlines earlier this year and is hiring the necessary staff to launch scheduled service. New Haven could be part of that plan.
In the SCASDP filing the Airport Authority notes significant discussions with Xtra. The airline includes a letter of support, suggesting that “HVN fits well in XTRA’s strategy of serving secondary airports of major metropolitan areas that lack adequate air service.”
The carrier goes on to note that “The start date of the proposed service hinges on funding and implementation of the applicant’s air service improvement strategy which is designed to reduce the economic risk associated with initiating the service described.”
With the winglets installed the aircraft should be able to operate routes roughly three hours from New Haven’s short runway, depending on the weather. The company notes in its letter of support that it “can commence service at HVN with the existing runway. It won’t be flying transcons to its initial operating base at Burbank, but Florida is within range. New Haven also wants flights to Chicago that Avelo could deliver and calls those out in the application.
The other new US airline launching this year, Breeze Airways, will operate a maintenance facility just just across Long Island Sound in Islip, NY. But the carrier could be induced to bring its new fleet to Tweed, if the price is right. In its grant application filing the airport authority calls out “the new A220 take-off capabilities” and hope to “broaden HVN’s options.” At the same time, it notes the short field performance remains relatively untested.
Similar to Avelo, however, Breeze appears confident “no operational or payload restrictions are expected for this aircraft type even with the current runway length.”
Breeze did not specifically file a letter of support for the HVN application like it did at Northwest Arkansas (XNA). But if the subsidy dollars show up New Haven would likely fit nicely in the carrier’s operating portfolio.
Supporting a pair
A pair of airlines operating out of a New Haven base would dramatically change the local market. Assuming minimal route overlap it seems possible the New Haven market can support a pair of new airlines. Or maybe just one.
Certainly the sizable subsidy from the SCASDP would help. No guarantees the grant gets issued, either. But if it does HVN is optimistic it can secure a deal to induce at least one of these carriers to establish a base this Fall.
Other potential markets
Beyond New Haven, XTRA expressed interest in the application from Ogden, Utah for its desire to add service to the San Francisco Bay area. The airport cites calculations for Oakland service in its filing.
Breeze supports the Norfolk, Virginia application as well as the aforementioned Bentonville, Arkansas filing.
The Islip, NY filing also includes a pair of letters of support, but both are redacted. Given the Breeze maintenance base at ISP it would be reasonable to expect that one of the applicants is Breeze, but we won’t know until the grants are issued and the deals are signed.
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