Fierce competition between America's top airlines is fueling explosive growth for a small airport in California

·4 min read
Hollywood Burbank Airport
Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, California. AaronP:Bauer/Griffin/GC Images/Getty
  • Hollywood Burbank Airport in California has experienced a boom in growth over the past two months.

  • The launch of Avelo Airlines has greatly increased competition at the small airport.

  • Carriers like Frontier Airlines are moving in while American Airlines and Alaska Airlines grow their presence.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Hollywood Burbank Airport is suddenly seeing explosive growth, thanks to a brand-new airline that launched there in April.

In the past two months, the airport - which is about the same distance from downtown Los Angeles as Los Angeles International Airport - has added 14 new routes and two new airlines, and has started welcoming larger planes, as well.

The airport's recent growth can be attributed to the launch of Avelo Airlines, which chose Burbank for its landmark debut in April with an initial slate of 11 new routes. Burbank's route network nearly doubled as Avelo added nonstop flights to cities across the West Coast, Southwest, and Mountain West.

Avelo's April launch then triggered a domino effect of other airlines adding routes to the Burbank airport. Alaska Airlines was the first to take on Avelo on its home turf with a new route between Burbank and Santa Rosa, California - also Avelo's flagship route - in the heart of California Wine Country.

"Anytime you have an airline - an ultra-low-cost type of carrier like Avelo - that typically results in the response that you're seeing with the other airlines," Frank Miller, executive director for Hollywood Burbank Airport, told Insider.

Miller said that the call from Alaska about the new route came "pretty much the next day" following Avelo's launch announcement. The Seattle-based airline likely saw the new route as a way to hit back at the startup carrier.

Alaska already has a presence in Burbank with existing flights to Seattle and Portland, Oregon, so adding the flight was just a matter of working out the schedule and informing the airport of the new service.

"It's just pretty much the airline making that decision and then coming to us," Miller said.

American Airlines is also adding a fifth flight between Burbank and Phoenix and upgrading the route from regional to mainline service using its larger Airbus A319 aircraft this summer. Avelo now competes with American on the route, using its Boeing 737-800s on the route and utilizing the smaller Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

Frontier Airlines is the latest airline to jump on the Burbank bandwagon with new flights to Denver, Las Vegas, and Phoenix starting in July. It only took about a month and a half from the time Miller received Frontier's call about potentially coming to the airport until the formal announcement came.

Fares for the new flights start at $19, the same as Avelo's introductory fares.

But while airlines scramble to get each other's passengers, the biggest winner has been Hollywood Burbank Airport. More flights, airlines, and routes earn the airport additional revenue and exposure that can be used to attract more travelers and airlines.

Burbank was already on its way towards recovery following the pandemic and the new flights only accelerated the process.

"A lot of it is that it is just so easy to get through here," Miller said of the initial recovery. "Couple that now with these new airlines coming in and the airlines that we have: the choices are there [and] the conveniences are there."

Miller didn't have to lobby for these new routes and upgraded service as Avelo did most of the work in drawing attention to Burbank and giving airlines a reason to be more competitive at the airport. Burbank's convenience is one of the key reasons why Avelo said it chose the airport as its main base.

"We're a low-cost carrier we've built to offer low fares but at the same time, we're going to offer a great level of convenience by utilizing Burbank, which we think is probably the best secondary airport in the country," Andrew Levy, chief executive officer of Avelo Airlines, told Insider in April. "I certainly always preferred flying out of Burbank whenever possible and got amazing convenience and ease of use."

"As we come out of a pandemic, I think [travelers] like the idea of a smaller airport to go through," Miller said. "And I think that's definitely an advantage that we have here."

Avelo's timeline was similarly fast-paced, with the planning period before the launch of flights only spanning a few months.

"They were very aggressive in their planning and in their startup," Miller said of Avelo. "And to be honest, I was thinking, 'Wow, are they moving too fast, and can they really meet all of these deadlines?'"

But the first flight departed from Burbank without a hitch on April 28, with Insider onboard, bound for Santa Rosa. For Burbank, it was the start of a new era and the first of 11 inaugural Avelo flights planned between April 28 and May 20.

"Andrew Levy proved to me why he does airlines and I do airports because he knew exactly what to do," Miller said.

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