BURBANK – The first Avelo Airlines (XP) revenue flight took place from Burbank (BUR) to Santa Rosa (STS) today, April 28, 2021.

In the current turbulent times that the aviation industry is facing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the ongoing immunization campaign in the United States, together with lower interest rates and aircraft leasing costs, is opening new opportunities to startup airlines.

Formerly known as Xtra Airways, a charter operator boasting an all-Boeing fleet with a mix of 737-400s and 737-800s, its CEO Andrew Levy rebranded his company into a small, low-cost operation that has joined a suddenly competitive market in California.

Levy, who co-founded Allegiant Air (G4), was the Chief Financial Officer of United Airlines (UA), and currently sits on the board of Panama’s Copa Airlines (CM).

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 07: The Avelo aircraft is seen at Hollywood Burbank Airport on April 07, 2021 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Avelo)

Five days before the maiden flight, Avelo Airlines faced a last-minute hurdle on its reservation platform, when its online reservation system powered by Radixx experienced an outage that has lasted at least 48 hours. At the time of publishing this story, the issues seem to have been resolved.

Refreshingly Smooth Travel

With the motto of a “Refreshingly Smooth Travel,” Avelo aims to focus on developing a low-cost business model with a pricing strategy built around the convenience of the customer. In other words, offering low fares and charging passengers for every possible service that the airline may offer.

Aside from this pricing strategy based on ancillaries, Avelo is going to take advantage of connecting smaller, secondary airports. Although based in Houston, Texas, Avelo plans to develop its hub Burbank, a smaller regional airport located just at the north of Los Angeles, California.

Avelo Airlines currently has three Boeing 737-800s in its fleet, featuring a single-class cabin configuration for 189 seats. On the outside, the branding identity turns around a striking purple and yellow livery.

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 07: The Avelo aircraft is seen at Hollywood Burbank Airport on April 07, 2021 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Avelo)

Competition Building on the West Coast

In the past months, the United States’ West Coast and particularly California have seen a noticeable influx of airlines, spooling up the competition for a market share.

Avelo plans to not only operate to underserved markets across California out of Burbank, but also to select destinations in surrounding states like Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah, and Arizona.

A recent route announcement from Burbank to Phoenix-Mesa (AZA) has spurred fierce competition between XP and American Airlines (AA), which has increased its weekly seat offer on its Burbank-Phoenix service by 154%, and upgrading the aircraft from four CRJ daily flights to five Airbus A319 flights per day.

Besides American Airlines’ throat-cutting reaction, Alaska Airlines (AS) is set to launch a Burbank-Santa Rosa service, starting on July 1. By September, AS plans to add frequencies on already-existing routes from STS to Santa Ana and San Diego.

Burbank’s regional traffic includes JSX (XE), Skywest (OO), and Southwest Airlines (OO), which altogether have set the stage for a dogfight in the Californian skies.

JSX, an airline characterized for offering a private flight-like experience for lower costs has expanded its footprint into Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), and Reno (RNO). On the other hand, Southwest Airlines has started flights from Las Vegas (LAS) to Santa Barbara (SBA), as well as Palm Springs. Fresno (FAT) is also on the plans to start soon. 

Despite the competition in the area, Levy is confident that now is the right time to launch Avelo, pointing out the staggering number of people eager to travel in a post-pandemic world for low prices.

Avelo certainly hasn’t seen a warm welcome to the industry, but the quick-paced responses are testament to the airline’s experienced leadership, and a low-cost business model tailored to suit the specific needs of travelers. Time will tell if Avelo will succeed amid this lucrative yet competitive market.

The Inaugural Event

Andrew Levy, CEO of Avelo Airlines, welcomed the passengers, aviation enthusiasts, and media guests around the boarding gate at Hollywood-Burbank Airport. Levy, an industry veteran, commented that he “Couldn’t be more proud of the team that we’ve assembled and all of our crew members are such a huge part of it.”

Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the CEO also thanked the Burbank Airport Commission and Frank Miller, the Executive Director of the airport. “You couldn’t have been a better partner to work with, and I am looking forward to having a very long partnership that is successful for both of us.” Levy also thanked the investors who have supported this new venture, as well as the crew members and airport staff.

Andrew Levy cutting the ribbon in Avelo’s first revenue flight. | Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

“Thank you for flying us today, we hope to deliver a great experience to you all, and you come back many times with your friends and family, and I can’t wait to get started,” Levy concluded.

Welcome Aboard Avelo Airlines

Soon after the ceremony, passengers were called to board Flight XP101 to Santa Rosa. The aircraft, registered N802XT (MSN 34405 · LN 1828) is a Boeing 737-800, originally delivered to Turkish Airlines (TK) in 2005. The airline expects to have a fleet of up to six aircraft before the end of the year.

During the boarding, Levy handed out a ticket jacket with a symbolic boarding pass that commemorated the inaugural service. The flight was almost full with enthusiastic passengers—mostly avgeeks—eager to get to the skies.

The special ticket jacket and boarding pass, signed by the CEO of Avelo Airlines. | Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

The crew was led by Captain Tony Taype, Chief Pilot of Avelo Airlines, and Captain Shady Hegab as First Officer. Four Flight Attendants were in the passenger cabin.

Captain Tony Taype and First Officer Shady Hegab | Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

The celebration soon spilled over into the aircraft. Levy welcomed aboard the passengers and thanked the crew members once again. After the mandatory safety briefing and a short taxi, the aircraft departed from Burbank’s runway 15 at 10:38 local time (17:38 GMT).

Gear up! and off we go to Santa Rosa. | Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

The passenger cabin is configured to fit 189 seats arranged in a standard 3-3 abreast. Seat pitch varies from 29″ in the standard seats to up to 35″ in the extra space section located in front of the passenger cabin. rue to its ultra-low-cost business model,  there are no amenities like TVs, Wi-Fi or power outlets on the jet. Admittedly, fares start at just $19 each way, so you get what you pay for.

The passenger cabin is configured to fit 189 seats arranged in a standard 3-3 abreast. Seat pitch varies from 29″ in the standard seats to up to 35″ in the extra space section located in front of the passenger cabin. The airline does not offer entertainment options such as In-Flight entertainment, power outlets, or even Wi-Fi. Ultra-low-cost flying at its finest.

Avelo Airlines has fitted its 737-800s with 189 seats arranged in a single class cabin configuration. | Photo: Avelo Airlines.

Shortly after takeoff, passengers were treated with individually wrapped snack packs, consisting of a small bottle of water, a shortbread cookie, and a sanitizing wipe. Flight Attendants served Apple cider to toast onboard, as the airline does not have a liquor license in place yet.

Passengers were offered an in-flight snack.| Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

After a short one-hour, four-minute uneventful flight, cruising at an altitude of 32,000 feet, the flight landed in Santa Rosa at 11:41 local time (18:41 GMT) on Runway 14. After deplaning, Santa Rosa Airport authorities welcomed the passengers with custom-designed cookies and a swag bag.

“The arrival of Avelo Airlines provides Sonoma County with its first low-fare carrier and an incredible opportunity to stimulate travel demand for both locals traveling to and visitors from Southern California,” said Jon Stout, Santa Rosa Airport Manager in a mailed statement.

Avelo Airlines is ready to compete in times where the aviation industry is slowly recovering from a standstill. Competitors have raised the stakes and welcomed the startup with heated competition in the market. Time will tell if Avelo will succeed, but if it sticks to its ultra-low-cost business model, the chances are high that a ‘Refreshingly Smooth Travel’ has come to stay.