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TravelAvelo puts tiny Lakeland, Florida, back on the US aviation map

Avelo puts tiny Lakeland, Florida, back on the US aviation map

A central Florida airport within a short drive of Orlando and Tampa is getting commercial air service for the first time in more than a decade.

Ultra-low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines on Wednesday announced plans to add Lakeland Linder International Airport (LAL) in Lakeland, Florida, as its 51st destination.

In June, the Houston-based airline will launch a twice-weekly, nonstop route to Lakeland from its fast-growing Northeast crew base at Tweed-New Haven Airport (HVN) in Connecticut.

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Like New Haven, Avelo will be the only carrier serving the small Lakeland airport, which hasn’t had commercial passenger service since Direct Air folded back in 2012.

“This is a dream come true for us,” Martha Santiago, a commissioner in the region’s Polk County, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Avelo’s new Lakeland route

Avelo will officially launch its new route from New Haven to Lakeland on June 13.

The carrier will operate its service twice weekly, on Thursdays and Sundays with its standard Boeing 737 aircraft.

A centrally located airport

A “refreshingly small, easy, and fast alternative hometown airport experience,” as Avelo put it in a statement Wednesday, the airport is quite centrally located to some of Florida’s biggest attractions.

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It’s about an hour’s drive from Orlando International Airport (MCO), and about 40 minutes from Tampa International Airport (TPA).

Situated along Florida’s I-4 corridor, the airport is also just about 40 minutes from Walt Disney World, as estimated by Google Maps.


“It’s so conveniently located where [travelers] can stay in Lakeland in the hotels, eat in the restaurants, shop in the stores, and they can easily travel over to Walt Disney or our beaches over on the bay,” Lakeland city manager Shawn Sherrouse added

On its own, the region drew six million tourists last year without commercial air service, Sherrouse noted. The city is the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers.

An announcement expected for months

Avelo’s announcement of Lakeland as a new destination has been anticipated for months.

Back in December, the carrier agreed to a deal with local government and tourism leaders in Lakeland that set the stage for the new route.

In preparation, the airport needed to make improvements to its TSA checkpoint and other airport infrastructure following more than a decade without commercial service — to the tune of a seven-figure price tag.

Those upgrades are currently in the works, and will be complete by the time Avelo launches its service in June, airport officials told TPG late Wednesday.


Will that work ultimately pay off in the form of additional routes beyond a single, twice-weekly destination?

“You may have hoped for a broader schedule and more cities on the initial introduction,” Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said at Wednesday’s news conference. “This is a way for us to all get started. For … Avelo to be able to see how we can load the planes, which we will do.”

In line with Avelo’s growth pattern

For its part, Avelo’s recent growth has largely focused on smaller airports like Lakeland with limited — if any — commercial service.


On top of its rapid expansion in New Haven, where it is the sole carrier, Avelo also is the only airline serving Delaware after it established a crew base at Wilmington Airport (ILG).

And, in just weeks, it will shift its current base at Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) to a more underserved Bay Area airport in Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport (STS) near Santa Rosa in California’s Wine Country.

But, Florida capacity is in flux

Of course, it’s worth noting that the carrier does still have a crew base just down I-4 from Lakeland in Orlando.

However, it appears Avelo has shifted significant capacity away from Orlando; seats from the airport in June, July and August will be down 48% versus last year, according to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium.

The airline has similar drops across the state of Florida.

Numerous airlines have begun to de-prioritize the ultra-popular leisure destination in recent months as a boatload of flights across numerous airlines (especially budget carriers) have caused fares to plummet.

Will Avelo fare better in nearby Lakeland?

Local leaders hope so — and they hope there’s more to come.

“This airline service is a great opportunity for our community,” said Kris Hallstrand, airport director. “We start today with one announcement, we’ll see how the future rolls out. We’ll be talking again, I assure you.”

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