Dubuque chamber annual meeting highlights importance of air service

Dubuque chamber presents annual awards

Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce officials presented two awards to three individuals as part of their annual meeting Thursday.

The Volunteer of the Year award was given to Ron and Jennifer Tigges, of Digital Dubuque, whom outgoing Dubuque chamber board chair Kay Takes called “unsung heroes” for their work for the chamber.

The Chair’s Award was presented to Caprice Jones, executive director of Fountain of Youth, for his leadership and commitment to ending generational poverty. The award is the most distinguished honor given by the chamber’s current chair based on their commitment to the community.

“I’m humble and grateful and also hopeful,” Jones said after receiving the award. “I’m hopeful for mankind.”

Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce officials celebrated the success of new flight destinations out of Dubuque Regional Airport on Thursday while emphasizing the need to continue bringing more flights to the airport.

About 250 people gathered at Grand River Center for the chamber’s annual meeting, at which air service was at the forefront of conversation. Within the past few months, Avelo Airlines began offering flights from Dubuque to Orlando, Fla., and announced upcoming air service to Las Vegas.

“We know how important air service is to our community,” Molly Grover, president and CEO of Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, said at the meeting. “… The single most important thing we can do (to maintain and increase air service in Dubuque) is the easiest thing we can do. Fly Dubuque, and fly Avelo. We know service begets service.”

Grover said staffing shortages and a reduction in available aircraft have plagued the airline industry. However, she highlighted the community’s success in bringing Avelo Airlines, an ultra-low-cost carrier headquartered in Houston, to Dubuque less than a year after American Airlines stopped offering flights between Dubuque and Chicago.

American Airlines’ departure from Dubuque in September left Dubuque Regional Airport without commercial air service.

Avelo then announced plans in November to start service between Dubuque and Orlando. Those flights began in March, about two months later than planned after a delay in the local airport securing Transportation Security Administration approval of a complete security plan.

Since debuting in Dubuque on March 22, Avelo has flown more than 8,000 passengers to and from Orlando. Following that success, Avelo officials last week announced that flights between Dubuque and Las Vegas will begin taking off in September.

Travis Christ, Avelo’s head of marketing, was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s chamber meeting. Christ spoke virtually after his flight to the area was canceled.

“We’re excited Avelo is in Dubuque,” he said. “… We weren’t thinking we’d be in Dubuque as soon as we were, so it’s been terrific.”

Christ said Avelo Airlines launched its first flight in April 2021, with its first base to other destinations at Hollywood Burbank Airport in California.

“Avelo’s reason for being is to inspire travel,” Christ said. “We wanted to find small airports that, up until now, had no service or service to a small region.”

The airline since has added five bases, including Orlando and Las Vegas. The others are Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, Wilmington Airport in Delaware and Tweed New Haven Airport in Connecticut, which Christ said had no air service in 2021 when Avelo arrived.

Christ said all Avelo flights are on Boeing 737 aircraft, and most of the flights are direct, nonstop routes.

“That’s the reason we can have really low fares, because of the larger plane,” he said.

This year, he said, Avelo has 16 aircraft in use. Those aircraft come from other airlines after they purchase new planes. Due to aircraft shortages, Avelo’s growth has been slower than hoped but still strong, he said.

Christ said flights in Dubuque took off better than expected, proven by the recent addition of the Las Vegas route.

“I think this record still stands, but after the first announcement (of the Dubuque to Orlando flights), that is the No. 1 booking day following an announcement of a new flight,” he said.

He said Dubuque residents are the most frequent bookers of Avelo flights at Dubuque Regional Airport, though people from Cedar Rapids and Waterloo in Iowa and Madison, Wis., also have booked flights.

If Avelo continues to see strong success in the Dubuque market, the number of destinations or frequency of flights could increase, Christ said. Currently, both the Orlando and upcoming Las Vegas flights are twice per week.

He added that additional routes to Florida are possible, noting that Dubuque was high on the list for a flight to Fort Myers before a hurricane swept through the city last year.

“What is the plan for Dubuque?” Christ said. “We’ve seen as of last week what the plan is. Dubuque jumped the gun and got more service faster than most other cities have. If things keep going well, we will add service.”