Phil Castle, The Business Times
Andrew Levy wanted to start an airline from scratch — and knew he didn’t want to replicate competing operations. “You have to do something different.”
What Levy came up with is a combination of low fares, convenience and customer service he expects to build business for Avelo Airlines. “We think we’ve got a really good shot at capturing a lot of customers.”
Levy applied the same thinking to his decision to select Grand Junction as one of 11 destinations for service to Southern California.
Levy is founder, chief executive officer and chairman of Avelo Airlines, which in May commenced service with four nonstop flights weekly between Grand Junction Regional Airport and Hollywood Burbank Airport.
The airline also serves a total of 10 more destinations in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Levy expects to offer additional service out of Tweed New Haven Airport in Connecticut starting later this year.
Avelo is one of the first airline startups in the United States in 15 years. But rather than serve large airports, Levy has focused his efforts on smaller airports that offer more convenience and less hassle.
Hollywood Burbank Airport is smaller and easier to get into and out of than Los Angeles International Airport, yet offers proximity to downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and other attractions, he said.
Grand Junction Regional Airport offers similar convenience over Denver International Airport along with proximity to Western Colorado, outdoor recreation and national parks in the region.
Levy said he expects the same thing to hold true for other airports Avelo serves as well as Tweed New Haven Airport.
Rather than compete for business travelers, Levy said Avelo caters to passengers flying for personal reasons — vacations or to see family and friends.
That’s a demographic more likely to take advantage of air service connecting Western Colorado and Southern California, Levy said.
Avelo operates 189-seat Boeing 737 aircraft on the route.
Avelo defies expectations about low-fare airlines in one respect, he said, in emphasizing caring and friendly customer service. “We get great feedback about our people.”
Levy brings to the venture experiences drawn from more than 20 years of working in the airline industry.
His first job after graduating from the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta was at ValuJet Airlines, a position he said made him the lowest-paid graduate that year, but one that was personally rewarding nonetheless. “I was really excited about it.”
Levy went on to become chief operating officer and president of Allegiant Air and executive vice president and chief financial officer of United Airlines.
He also is a board member of Copa, a leading Latin American airline.
Levy said his experiences inspired his entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to launch an airline on his own. “I’ve always wanted to do this myself.”
The opportunity arose, he said, in purchasing XTRA Airways, a charter carrier based in Houston.
Levy raised about $125 million in private equity funding and assembled a leadership team that includes senior executives from other airlines to turn XTRA Airways into Avelo Airlines.
Levy said his experiences over the years have taught him some important lessons. “Don’t try this at home,” he joked.
He said he learned how competitive and nuanced the airline industry can be as well as the persistence required to succeed. “You have to be incredibly relentless.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions decimated air travel in 2020. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S airlines carred 369 million passengers last year, down from a record 926 million in 2019.
Levy said the airline industry is now poised to rebound as pent-up demand leads to a likely surge in travel.
That makes the timing advantageous to start an airline, he said. “I think we’re starting at a good time.”
While service between Grand Junction and Southern California could require an adjustment to match supply and demand, Levy said he has equally high hopes for the route one more people become aware of what’s available.
“We’re excited about it,” he said.