OGDEN — Two airlines have ended service to Ogden, dealing a setback to the city’s efforts to expand travel options at Ogden-Hinckley Airport.
Allegiant Air said Tuesday it shelved its Ogden flights recently, while Avelo Airlines said high fuel costs had caused it to drop its Ogden service. The news comes at an awkward time for the city, which has been leveraging Federal Aviation Administration funds to build capacity for more commercial flights.
“While we made the decision to put our service at Ogden Airport on hiatus in April, we remain highly committed to Utah and are, in fact, growing our presence in the region,” Allegiant spokesperson Sonya Padgett said in an email.
The Allegiant expansion Padgett referenced is at the Provo Airport, where the airline is establishing a $95 million base for five aircrafts and crews. By November, Allegiant will be flying to 12 destinations from Provo, including Los Angeles; San Diego; Las Vegas; Portland, Oregon; and Orlando, Florida.
Allegiant began flying through Ogden a decade ago. Avelo scheduled an Ogden-Burbank, California, flight beginning in May 2021, billing the Ogden destination as a convenient route to all Wasatch Front attractions.
“Due to record-high fuel costs, we have halted service of this route,” Avelo spokesperson Courtney Goff said in an email. “While demand is doing well, the costs were not sufficient to justify flying this route at today’s record-high jet fuel prices. As prices continue to fluctuate, we will re-evaluate continuing operation in Ogden.”
Bryant Garrett, Ogden’s airport manager, said Wednesday a “perfect storm” of conditions is buffeting Ogden and other smaller-market airports around the country.
Garrett said Allegiant told him the company has more than two dozen leased aircrafts parked because it doesn’t have air crews for them. He said larger airlines can have their pick of expensive-to-train pilots and “it’s killing the smaller airlines.”
Garrett added that Avelo’s departure was triggered by Allegiant’s. They shared fuel supply services at Ogden, and rather than pick up that burden alone, Avelo decided it had a better use for the flight elsewhere.
A silver lining is that Ogden will be able to finish terminal improvements more quickly, now that construction will not need to be done around functioning airlines, Garrett said. He said current capacity limits Ogden to two commercial flights at a time.
“Hopefully in a year and a half, these bad business factors will have abated and we will be able to get a new commitment,” he said. “The issue is the price of fuel and the availability of pilots. It appears the airlines’ strategy is to retrench in the markets where they are going to make the most money right now.”
In air industry parlance, Allegiant and Avelo are known as ultra-low-cost carriers, which look to fill niches, often at suburban airports. While Ogden City officials have extolled the virtues of Ogden’s airport for those services, some critics of the administration said they are not surprised Avelo and Allegiant have pulled out.
The skeptics said that some airlines shun flying to Ogden because of a key runway’s proximity to the local mountain ranges. “They are not willing to do ‘circle to land’” to work around the impediment, Ed McKenney, president of the Ogden Regional Airport Association, said in a recent interview.
He said losing both airlines may bring into question the $1 million per year through 2027 that the airport is scheduled to receive from the FAA for improvements of airport facilities.
“This is a continuation of Ogden’s spending millions to attract and fund the airlines when there are significant safety and business reasons why the airlines have no interest in doing business with Ogden City,” McKenney said.
McKenney is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a federal civil suit against the city alleging the airport is unconstitutionally depriving hangar ground lessees of improvements they have made to hangars. Under a 2019 airport master plan, the airport says it will no longer automatically renew ground leases and will demolish hangars that are 40 years or older. Garrett said recently some of the hangar lessees no longer fly and that they store boats, trailers and other belongings in the hangars.
Troy Larkin, a vice president of the airport users association and another plaintiff in the lessees’ suit, echoed McKenney’s comments. He said ultra-low-cost carriers will stay in Ogden only as long as they can maintain passenger numbers on a handful of flights. Ogden’s future may be more amenable to an airline such as JetBlue, which has been known to serve similar markets, Larkin said.
But, both McKenney and Larkin said Ogden should focus on general aviation operations. McKenney said that should include not just owners of small planes but also corporate operations, maintenance and repair services, and government business, such as Forest Service bases.
At the city-owned Provo Airport, acting manager Brian Torgersen said Tuesday that, in addition to Allegiant’s expansion, Breeze Airways will begin offering daily flights in August to San Francisco and to more destinations later in the year.
Torgersen said Provo’s new terminal is part of the airport’s growth story, plus the ease and convenience of parking, and no long lines or long walks. He said the Allegiant flight to and from Mesa, Arizona, is one of the most successful for the airline, fueled by the large population in the Mesa area of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Allegiant previously flew to Mesa from Ogden.