American Airlines ending flights into, out of Dubuque in September

Dubuque Regional Airport’s only commercial carrier will end service to the airport later this summer.

American Airlines “made the difficult decision to end service” to Dubuque and three other cities due to a shortage of pilots, a spokesperson confirmed to the Telegraph Herald on Tuesday afternoon. Service will end on Sept. 7.

The airline currently offers two flights per day between Dubuque and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

“We’ll proactively reach out to customers scheduled to travel after this date to offer alternate arrangements,” said an emailed statement from airline spokesman Brian Metham to the Telegraph Herald.

In an interview with the TH, Airport Director Todd Dalsing said his team had been closely following similar announcements across the airline industry.

“There have been multiple announcements between American (Airlines), United (Airlines), Delta (Air Lines),” Dalsing said. “There were 29 small cities United or SkyWest dropped service to back in March. Ever since the pandemic, the Regional Airline Association says that 29 regional airports have lost commercial service.”

Dalsing said Dubuque airport officials will continue to try to work with American Airlines.

“We have been partners for a long time,” he said. “We’ll look into any alternative solutions we can come up with. But as of right now, they’re saying it’s not a suspension.”

Early in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led American to temporarily suspend flights to Dubuque. Dalsing said this announcement is different.

“They specifically then said it was a suspension and that it would come back,” he said. “Now, even with the high cost of the fuel, they say it is not a revenue issue, that it is completely a pilot shortage issue. This is affecting all carriers nationwide. This will not be a quick fix. Some (experts) are forecasting that the pilot shortage could last for years or more.”


Dubuque Regional Airport has experienced highs and lows over the past decade.

Passenger counts steadily increased from 2013 to 2015, spurring optimism among local business leaders of securing expanded air service.

In June 2016, a new airport terminal opened to the public, the result of a four-year, $37 million project. About 85% of the cost was covered by the Federal Aviation Administration. The terminal was three times bigger than the one it replaced and included counterspace for additional airlines to join American.

Passenger counts continued to climb in 2016 and 2017, faltered in 2018, then rose again in 2019.

But a 2019 study showed that a lack of destination choices were an obstacle to convincing more passengers to fly from Dubuque. At the time, 77% of passengers in a 50- to 70-mile radius flew from Chicago or other regional airports.

In February 2020, Dubuque received a $775,000 federal grant that officials hoped to use to attract an additional carrier to offer twice-daily flights to Denver.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

American Airlines started cutting local flights in April 2020 in response. Following repeated reductions, the airline suspended all flights from the airport from early October 2020 to early January 2021.

In January 2021, flights resumed but were kept to one per day before being increased to two per day in April 2021. In November, American Airlines increased the number of flights to three per day.

But the number of local flights decreased in December to one on four days of the week and two on the other days.


In a presentation to the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors in May, Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Molly Grover and Dalsing highlighted a suite of industrywide patterns that are bad news for local commercial air service.

They noted that airlines are phasing out the kind of 50-seat jets that fly in and out of Dubuque twice a day. They warned of the worsening pilot shortage that led to Tuesday’s announcement.

So, they made messaging in their FlyDBQ1st marketing campaign more urgent.

On Tuesday, Grover shared her disappointment.

“This is something that we’ve been working very hard as a community to prevent, something to avoid at all costs,” she said. “Certainly, it’s not the kind of news that you want to get. But pre-COVID, there was a pilot shortage, and the pandemic exacerbated the situation even more.”

Dubuque City Manager Mike Van Milligen said the news had been drawing nearer for some time.

“You looked across the country and saw other cities losing service even sooner,” he said. “I appreciate that American Airlines have stuck with us this long.”

Grover said local employers and the business community likely will feel the pinch when commercial service ceases.

“Certainly, access to air service is very important to the business community, and we want to make sure that our employers and our businesses continue to have all modes of transportation,” she said. “Not having it here directly at Dubuque Regional Airport is an impact that will be felt by our employers … and we will help accommodate their needs in any way we can.”

One option, she said, is a model that other regional airports have recently adopted in which patrons still purchase tickets through their local airport and are transported by bus to another regional airport offering the flight they want.

“We want to investigate and explore what options might be available,” she said.

Officials stressed that the airport is not closing. It will continue to serve corporate, charter and private aircraft, including the hundreds of students in the University of Dubuque aviation program

Dalsing said Tuesday that the airport’s expansion to Denver was “still in play” but would be more challenging.

“We still have a Small Community Air Service Development grant with the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand westbound service,” he said. “But as long as there’s a pilot shortage, we won’t see too many airlines adding service.”

Dubuque Mayor Brad Cavanagh promised not to give up on commercial air service in Dubuque.

“This is one of those things smaller airports are going to be the victim of much larger economic forces,” he said. “It’s definitely not something that’s going to keep us from reaching out to airlines in the future. I stressed when I talked to our contact with American Airlines that we wanted to maintain that relationship. … We’re all working hard to make sure we’re not isolated in our corner of Iowa.”

Reporter Elizabeth Kelsey contributed to this story.