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Flights Return to Del Rio’s Airport Under Stimulus Funding For Airlines. But It May Be Temporary.

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.
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.

After three months without flights, the first American Airlines flight took off from the Del Rio International Airport early Wednesday morning. But the future of the airport remains uncertain.

Congress’ latest stimulus package gave airlines $15 billion for employee wages, salaries and benefits. To unlock that funding, they must maintain flights and employee pay from before the pandemic.

That brought back flights to Del Rio’s airport, which lost its lone commercial airline service from American Airlines in October. The Dallas/Fort Worth-based airline suspended service out of Del Rio and 14 other markets with low demand after its CAREs Act funding ended, along with its requirements.

The latest stimulus funding is expected to run out in March, and American Airlines hasn’t said whether it will extend flights beyond then.

“We’re always evaluating our network based on supply and demand. In light of the extension of the Payroll Support Program, we plan to reinstate service to previously suspended markets starting today,” an American Airlines spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

For now, Del Rio will have one flight to DFW scheduled for 6 a.m. with a return at 6 p.m., according to Airport Manager Juan Carlos Onofre.

Previous reporting:

When the news of the previous suspension came out, Onofre told TPR News in October he was shocked but not surprised. 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.

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María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria
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.