As Dubuque Mayor Brad Cavanagh spoke to a crowd of business leaders at Dubuque Regional Airport on Wednesday afternoon, an announcement for flight passengers interrupted him over the loudspeaker.
“Don’t you love that sound?” he said with a laugh.
Avelo Airlines’ first flight to Dubuque Regional Airport landed Wednesday afternoon, with a Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting to mark the occasion. The inbound flight held 160 passengers, and the outgoing flight was booked with 163 passengers.
Avelo will provide service between Dubuque and Orlando International Airport on Wednesdays and Saturdays on a Boeing 737 aircraft, which can hold as many as 189 passengers.
“We’re super excited to welcome Avelo to the tri-state area,” Airport Director Todd Dalsing told the Telegraph Herald. “This isn’t just about Dubuque. It’s about everyone within our 40-mile radius.”
Avelo’s arrival marks the return of commercial air service to Dubuque Regional Airport after American Airlines stopped service in September. Officials announced in November Avelo’s plans to offer flights between Dubuque and Orlando, Fla.
Avelo flights from Orlando to Dubuque Regional Airport will land at about 5:05 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, with flights taking off to Orlando at 5:50 p.m.
Avelo Airlines initially planned to begin offering air service out of the Dubuque airport Jan. 11. However, that flight was canceled after the airport did not secure Transportation Security Administration approval of a complete security plan. In the interim, Avelo operated its planned Dubuque flights out of Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids.
“Customers had vacation plans already booked, but we were able to provide alternative service and accommodate those customers,” Dalsing said. “And while we were waiting for Avelo here, people still flew and booked Avelo.”
Courtney Goff, communications manager for Avelo Airlines, said charter buses to Cedar Rapids were being offered to passengers who initially flew out of Cedar Rapids and now are landing in Dubuque. She said the need for those buses should be gone by next week.
“The bookings were so good that we didn’t want to leave people high and dry,” she said. “Even though there was a little bit of an inconvenience, we wanted to show that we are committed to this area. We’re not going to announce and leave.”
Dubuque airport officials confirmed earlier this month that they had obtained the needed TSA approval and that flights were ready to begin Wednesday.
“We had to wait a little longer than we wanted, but we’re here now,” Cavanagh said during the ribbon-cutting. “We’re here now, and we’re not stopping. … I’m excited to say, ‘Hello, Avelo,’ and welcome to Dubuque.”
Dalsing said he and Dubuque chamber President and CEO Molly Grover first heard about Avelo Airlines in March 2022 while attending an air service conference.
He said a true market study found that roughly 27,000 people within a 40-mile radius of Dubuque fly to Orlando each year. With Avelo flying from Dubuque, about 20,000 people now can make the trek annually, he said.
“We knew there was a market to go there, and we will continue to build that market to meet customer demand,” he said.
Goff said she did not have exact booking numbers for flights going forward, but numbers still were strong for tickets, which start as low as $49 one way. She said the first day Dubuque flights initially went on sale was one of the “best sales days in our history.”
“The biggest things that we try to offer to our customers are low fares and convenient flights,” she said. “We always try to get at least one of those for our customers. Dubuque aligned both of those things.”
Dalsing noted that the start of Avelo flights will have a positive economic impact on the community, including jobs to assist with flights and provide service to customers at the airport.
He said Avelo flights also open up the opportunity for the airport to look into other markets for future destinations, depending on where demand is located.
Grover said the start of Avelo air service is an “economic asset” to the entire area, and the flights also will be an asset as work continues to bring additional commercial air service to Dubuque Regional Airport.
“It’s a great day and a huge step forward as we continue to advance our air service,” she said. “… Business begets business. Success breeds success. There are lots of efforts to ensure that.”
Dubuque County Supervisor Harley Pothoff also expressed excitement for Avelo’s arrival during Wednesday’s event, thanking all of the people involved who brought commercial flights back to Dubuque.
“It was under a year ago that we found out we were going to lose our air service,” he said. “Less than six months ago, we did lose our air service. And here we are now, starting over.”