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American Airlines Suspends Flights To Del Rio Airport

City of Del Rio
A celebration of the arrival of American Airlines to the Del Rio Airport in 2018. Commercial air travel to the city has come and gone over the years.

Fort-Worth based American Airlines suspended flights to the Del Rio airport on Wednesday after economic relief for the airline industry expired on Oct. 1. Del Rio is among 15 U.S. cities where the airline suspended flights, leaving Del Rio with no commercial airline service and eliminating two dozen airport jobs.

The CARES Act passed by Congress this spring included $25 billion dollars in grants and loans for passenger airlines but stipulated that airlines must continue to fly to their regular destinations. In August, American announced that it would begin dropping airports if Congress did not extend the economic stimulus.

The news came as a shock to the manager of Del Rio Airport, Juan Carlos Onofre.

“It was like the ice bucket challenge," he said.

The Del Rio airport was a profitable destination for American Airlines, according to Onofre, though a modest one that offered only two flights a day.

"So, it was kind of surprising but not surprising,” he said.

Airline and airport revenues plummeted in the spring when travel ground to a halt, and the industry is now bracing for significant contractions as air travel remains slow.

In Del Rio, commercial air service has come and gone over the years. Continental Airlines and later United Airlines served the airport from 2005 to 2013, after which no commercial flights went to Del Rio for a period of five years. The city landed a deal with American Airlines in 2018, which Onofre remembers as a victory for the city. "There was cake involved," he said.

The airline brought 23 new jobs to the airport, mostly through Envoy Air, a company that provides ground services for American Airlines, as well as a new source of revenue for the city government, which operates the airport.

Commercial air travel also raised the city's economic prospects.

"Behind a well-connected town, there is economic development coming," Onofre says. "There’s people that will look for places to put their factories, their distribution centers, and some of the things that they check on their checklist is if it has a golf course and if it has an airport.”

The city has a golf course, he added.

American has only suspended flights until November, and though customers can currently book flights for November and beyond, Onofre suspects the company is waiting on further developments from Congress to decide whether to permanently cancel its route to the city.

Ben contributes reporting and audio mixing to a number of podcasts at Texas Public Radio including The Shakeout, Petrie Dish, and Worth Repeating. In previous lives, he made podcasts at New Hampshire Public Radio, worked as a science news reporter, and briefly entertained a career in marine biology.