Breeze Airways coming to Ogden, marking return of air service to city
OGDEN — Passenger air service is returning to Ogden.
Breeze Airways, a low-cost carrier that already serves Provo and many other U.S. cities, plans to start providing four-times-a-week service between Ogden and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, starting in February. It marks the return of commercial air service to Ogden-Hinckley Airport following the departure last year of Allegiant Air and Avelo Airlines, which flew to Mesa, Arizona, and Burbank, California, respectively.
“One of the amazing things about the Ogden airport is how accessible it is,” Breeze Chief Financial Officer Trent Porter said Tuesday in an interview with the Standard-Examiner, noting its proximity to Interstate 15. Company reps also held a press conference Wednesday morning to formally unveil its plans to the broader public.
Parallel to Porter’s announcement, the Ogden City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to provide a $250,000 incentive to lure Breeze to the airport. City officials estimate the airline’s startup costs will total $800,000 to $1 million.
City Councilperson Richard Hyer, who voted yes, sees minimal risk in providing funds in light of the Federal Aviation Administration money Ogden stands to receive, perhaps $1 million a year or more, if enplanements surpass 10,000 a year. “I’m excited to be partnering with a new startup that has new equipment. Very optimistic about their future. I think the risk is minimal,” he said.
Councilperson Ben Nadolski, the mayor-elect, voted no, in part because of outstanding questions about the deal between Breeze and the city and skepticism within the vocal community of local air enthusiasts and airport hangar users about the plans. “We’ve got a responsibility to all stakeholders here,” he said Wednesday, though he will support Ogden’s efforts with Breeze following approval of the incentive.
Breeze officials sense demand in Ogden given the number of Ogden-area residents taking Breeze flights out of the Provo Municipal Airport, Porter said. Aside from the Ogden area, he also noted the potential client base from cities further north, including Brigham City and Logan.
Bud Hafer, Breeze’s director of government and airport affairs, says the firm’s research indicates strong demand in the Ogden area for flights connecting to the Los Angeles area. He spoke at Wednesday’s press conference at the Ogden airport, as did Mayor Mike Caldwell, a strong proponent.
“Just to be able to drive here, park here, get home really quick,” Caldwell said, alluding to the proximity of the airport. “I am really, really personally excited about this.”
The Los Angeles area is the top destination where people in the Ogden area want to fly, Caldwell said, and the city stands to get up to $1.7 million in FAA funding depending on Breeze’s customer numbers.
Breeze, based in Cottonwood Heights, flies from Provo direct to San Francisco, Phoenix and the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. In all, the carrier — serving “underserved routes across the U.S. at affordable rates,” according to its promotional material — flies to some 45 destinations around the country. Most of those are clustered in the eastern half of the United States.
Porter, who grew up in Ogden, said Breeze will offer introductory promotional fares of $39 for one-way travel between Ogden and John Wayne Airport, located in Santa Ana, California. He lauded the Santa Ana airport as a less-stressful alternative to much larger Los Angeles International Airport.
“The two experiences at the two (airports) are completely different, night and day,” he said. An Airbus A220, which seats around 137, will serve the Ogden airport.
What’s more, Porter said, the Santa Ana facility is the closest airport to Disneyland in adjacent Anaheim.
Though some local critics have questioned whether Ogden is a good fit for airline service, Porter seems bullish. Ogden-Hinckley Airport Manager Bryant Garrett has maintained all along that it wasn’t low profits or low traffic that prompted Allegiant and Avelo to leave. Allegiant left because the operator couldn’t hire enough pilots while Avelo departed because the firm could make more money elsewhere, he said.
In fact, Porter leaves open the possibility of someday adding more routes out of Ogden. “We’d love that,” he said.
Likewise, Sarah Toliver, president of Visit Ogden, which promotes tourism to Weber County, spoke favorably of the incentive plans at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. She alluded to the impact Los Angeles-area visitors have on the area economy.
“The L.A. metro market is our No. 1 out-of-state feeder market for our community all year round. But in the winter especially, it generates about 25% of the destination skier visitors at our resorts,” she said. “If you’re a local, you may not like that number, but it is one of the realities of how important that market is to us.”
On the flip side, Angel Castillo, a former Ogden mayoral hopeful, spoke against providing the incentive. At the very least, she said, the city should include provisions in the deal with Breeze that allow for recuperation of incentive funding if the airline doesn’t meet performance parameters related, perhaps, to boardings.
“But I don’t think we should be speculative investors. We are government,” she said.
Ed McKenney, active in the Ogden Regional Airport Association, alluded to earlier optimistic assertions about the viability of the air service market in Ogden, notwithstanding the subsequent departure of carriers that came here.
The projections supplied by airline boosters to City Council members “all sound so wonderful, but they don’t come true,” he said. “It’s like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. Here we go again.”