Burbank passengers disembark from inaugural October 2021 flight. Courtesy Avelo Airlines

Up, up and up some more: Regional airport’s reach

LOVELAND — “Never feel sorry,” a saying goes, “for a man with a plane.”

Sounds right. Jason Licon has lots and is doing pretty well.

The airport director at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland doesn’t own them. He just takes care of them, ensuring they take off and land well and have a place to park before doing it all over again.

He’s been director for a decade at the airport and the planes have been taking off a little more frequently recently. If a number of facility initiatives are any indication, that’s going to increase.

The airport hopes to start tests of a next-gen remote air traffic control system soon and is designing a new terminal to begin construction within about a year. It’s adding an FBO — fixed base operator — via a private developer. It’s readying an RFP for new hangars. Even when news likely won’t directly affect airport operations, it’s still kind of a big deal. Witness an in-process effort by a different developer to build a 2.4 million-square-foot distribution center for Amazon.com Inc. nearby.

Biggest of all are the commercial flights by Avelo Airlines to Los Angeles starting last month and ones to Las Vegas, starting in the next.

Through it all — apart from the occasional exuberance in a press release trumpeting this or that new thing — Licon keeps a fairly measured take and tone.

At a BizWest Transportation Roundtable in October, he sounded like a pilot greeting passengers over the plane’s public address system offering, “a lot of great information to share with you today [about] travel and convenience.”

He spoke to the assembled calmly, collectedly of “compatible land use as development occurs around the airport” and airport master planning. He cited transportation density issues — helping care for the planes by helping people to not have to drive to Denver to fly: “partnerships, instead of putting cars down I-25.”

There were “regulatory challenges, transportation security [and] funding eligibility” notes to sound. The nearest Licon flew to exuberance was speaking of the airport’s vision and innovation efforts.

In short, exactly what one wants from a guy with so many planes.

Even when the news is big.

Flights

Does the North Front Range want to go to Vegas?

Licon and Avelo say so and are about to find out.

Avelo is selling tickets for flights to begin Dec. 15. It added the new route one week after beginning to serve California from Loveland. It flies twice a week to Hollywood Burbank Airport. Its presence here became the airline’s only Colorado landing strip, after a brief sortie over Grand Junction.

The Las Vegas flights will also be twice a week, nonstop to McCarran International Airport.

“We’re excited to add this popular route to Avelo’s Western U.S. network,” Avelo Chairman and CEO Andrew Levy said in a press release on the airline’s Las Vegas plans. In beginning to serve California, Levy had called Northern Colorado “one of the world’s most beautiful destinations.” Avelo’s website, meanwhile, lauds this locale as “the culture capital of Northern Colorado.”

Licon believes people here will fly to the 24-hour city in the Nevada desert.

“Las Vegas is certainly in the top three destinations based on our market research,” he said, including the tracking of ticketing, overlaid with zip codes, from U.S. Department of Transportation data. Allegiant 10 years ago flew four times a week to the city, he said.

“The occupancy was 90%,” he said. “We know it was successful.”

The airport still gets calls regularly to see if there are flights to Las Vegas, he said. “Residents appreciate its return.”

Avelo will add to the data and other airlines will watch their results, he said.

“On the flipside, they’re a start-up,” he said. “A lot goes into that and getting through the first two years is critical.”

Avelo launched in April, backed by $125 million in private investment, as “the first new U.S. mainline carrier in 15 years,” according to spokesman Jim Olson. Its Texas parent is Houston Air Holdings Inc.

CEO Levy had been cofounder and president of Allegiant and CFO with United Airlines. Olson has done communications stints with United, US Airways and Starbucks.

Olson said Avelo (“Uh-veh-low”) is about simplicity, even in its smooth pronunciation. It also sounds like the word “aviation” of course, and, he said, hearkens to the “avenue” as in small towns.

Crew members wear purple: “welcoming, not overexposed; blue is a pretty common denominator color.”

The company logo is a wishbone.

According to an Airline Service Agreement, the airport pays to advertise flights and is waiving some fees for the first year. Avelo ponies up for some security services and pledges minimum purchases of jet fuel. Financial return to the airport includes more federal funding and what passengers spend, topping $1 million all-in over the next three years.

Avelo is growing. It plans to add flights from a new east coast base in New Haven, Connecticut, to six cities in Florida, beginning in November.

But it has also struggled, said Southern California-based airline industry watcher Brett Snyder, trying a number of different routes, occasionally cutting frequency or routes.

Olson said as a new airline, “you want to be trying and testing” and some markets that didn’t get service, in part due to the emergence of the Delta variant of COVID-19 or rental-car shortages, could get a second look.

Snyder echoed Olson’s “small-town” comments, which Levy had also been discussing for several years as Avelo prepared to launch.

“Burbank is an alternate [choice] airport but already has service to big cities,” Snyder said. “So the focus here is getting to small cities where there is no service.”

Plans

Which is just fine with Licon, who welcomes the connections the airport is making to Parts West and just now couldn’t do much more anyway.

“Our capacity is quite limited,” he said. The airport can handle one flight at a time, based on its passenger areas and working from a temporary terminal. “We can’t accommodate multiple flights.”

Hence, well, many things, including the planning for a new terminal and the pending testing of the remote air traffic control system.

The first is “our top priority” and Licon figures the airport is a third of the way there, with an aim to start building “late next year or early 2023.” The terminal would open in 2024.

The second is likely to come earlier but not necessarily soon.

“We’d planned to start last year,” he said, but, as many nationwide have said of many things: COVID. As “the pandemic interrupted things” so now an order that all federal employees be vaccinated by Nov. 22, is injecting uncertainty into air travel and federal initiatives, including the airport’s testing of the system.

“We had a window this summer and were going to start in August.” But Larimer County COVID cases exceeded federal limits and the Federal Aviation Administration couldn’t come out to start it up.

Licon knew in 2015 the airport would be a testing site for the air traffic control system. “Our proximity to Denver, being one of the busier airports in the state that didn’t have a tower, and we showed a lot of interest in the concept.” State funding of $8.8 million to the FAA helped move the project forward.

He now uses a temporary facility “for conventional tower work, a portable unit not intended to provide air traffic control for as long as we have.”

Once it begins, as soon as early next year, testing the system will take several years.

Builds

Meantime, Licon has at least three other projects either already happening or in the works.

The airport could see expansion of its “wingless flight program” — the United Airlines buses that take the air carrier’s passengers from Licon’s facility to Denver International Airport. The clear benefit: The people heading to DIA don’t have to drive and everyone else on the road doesn’t have to let them merge in. United, Licon said, may be adding “a fifth daily roundtrip between here and Denver’’ including a passing-through-security enhancement as well.

“We’re highly optimistic.”

A second project involves a new FBO at the Discovery Air project on leased airport land. Martin Lind’s Water Valley Land Co. is developing a four-building layout. The second building is expected to break ground in mid-2022 and will include the FBO, operated by Million Air Interlink Inc. in Houston. Project manager Business Aviation Group LLC named the FBO last month to run it when it opens in 2023.

The airport has one FBO currently, Fort Collins-Loveland Jet Center, also on a land lease that runs until 2034. It’s operated by JetCenters Inc. of Greenwood Village, which also has FBOs in Colorado Springs and Denver and is run locally by Deb Montgomery.

Licon said “a few years ago it went to 24/7” on its services for plane owners and pilots — maintenance, hangar, avionics and so on. “We have a lot of medical transportation that occurs in the late evening, for support to the local hospitals.”

A third effort, likely to see movement before the new FBO opens, is “redeveloping older hangars,” which are pushing 60 years old and “occupy some higher and better use space for our aircraft parking apron.”

The airport is developing an RFP for both redeveloping the current hangar rows and building new ones in another spot. The RFP isn’t finished; there’s been some tension among aircraft owners being displaced or moved and the airport in its planning process. The Airport Commission is set to consider the RFP Nov. 10 after not finishing it up in early fall.

A final, for now, big deal is one that will hardly touch the airport at all: the distribution center, intended in much likelihood for Amazon. But as long as development doesn’t get in the way of planes the airport will not have much to do with it. It just happens to be nearby.

“We’ve explored the cargo piece” of airport operations, Licon said, “and there hasn’t been a whole lot of momentum.”

He said package delivery companies use Denver International. The Loveland airport’s proximity to DIA, a benefit for the Avelo, United and remote air traffic control initiatives, hinders cargo business. Delivery companies would sooner use roads and trucks.

“They won’t put another hub so close,” he said. In any event, “on package delivery, Northern Colorado is a net importer. The export piece is critical and an area needs to be producing that.”

Until predicted growth begins to come, the area won’t support a cargo hub — not even if it’s Amazon’s.

“The airport isn’t going to play a tremendous role in that,” Licon said. Then, continuing in the calm, he noted: “Still, having those types of facilities near the airport is an intentional land use design. It’s good, and works well with aviation proximity as a cohesive land use model.”

LOVELAND — “Never feel sorry,” a saying goes, “for a man with a plane.”

Sounds right. Jason Licon has lots and is doing pretty well.

The airport director at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland doesn’t own them. He just takes care of them, ensuring they take off and land well and have a place to park before doing it all over again.

He’s been director for a decade at the airport and the planes have been taking off a little more frequently recently. If a number of facility initiatives are any indication, that’s going to increase.

The airport hopes to start tests of a next-gen remote air traffic control system soon and is designing a new terminal to begin construction within about a year. It’s adding an FBO — fixed base operator — via a private developer. It’s readying an RFP for new hangars. Even when news likely won’t directly affect airport operations, it’s still kind of a big deal. Witness an in-process effort by a different developer to build a 2.4 million-square-foot distribution center for Amazon.com Inc. nearby.

Biggest of all are the commercial flights by Avelo Airlines to Los Angeles starting last month and ones to Las Vegas, starting in the next.

Through it all — apart from the occasional exuberance in a press release trumpeting this or that new thing — Licon keeps a fairly measured take and tone.

At a BizWest Transportation Roundtable in October, he sounded like a pilot greeting passengers over the plane’s public address system offering, “a lot of…