Commercial flights will return to Dubuque Regional Airport in about two weeks.
The airport and Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday that American Airlines flights will resume on Jan. 6. The schedule initially will feature one flight from Dubuque to Chicago O’Hare International Airport per day and one returning flight that same evening.
“We are absolutely thrilled about the news,” said chamber CEO Molly Grover. “The COVID-19 relief package means services returning. It is critical to our economy. It’s critical to our business community, having the return to service. We are very excited.”
Flights out of Dubuque starting on Jan. 6 can be booked at aa.com.
In the new $900 billion economic relief package, $16 billion will be allocated to support airline employee and contractor payroll, and another $2 billion will support airports. This funding will allow the Dubuque airport to resume commercial flights through March 31 with hopes that passenger interest will allow flights to continue.
“This is driven by demand,” Grover said. “We are hopeful and thrilled to see service return, and we know more than ever to fly Dubuque first. We are very grateful to our legislators.”
In a joint statement Monday, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom thanked federal leaders for their support.
“We’re grateful that our elected officials heard us and passed a bill that includes an extension of the Payroll Support Program, an important indication that our nation’s leaders believe in our team as much as we do,” the statement said. “This PSP extension will enable us to bring furloughed team members back to work and resume air service to cities and towns that rely on us — all at a critical moment.”
The company declined further comment when reached by the Telegraph Herald on Tuesday.
The number of passengers flying into and out of Dubuque plummeted when the pandemic took hold this spring, and American Airlines in April reduced its number of daily flights from Dubuque that month from three to two. That dropped to one flight per day four days per week in May and one flight per day five days per week in June.
In August, the airline announced a suspension of flights in and out of Dubuque would begin Oct. 6. Although flights originally were expected to resume in the first week of November, the suspension eventually was extended through the end of the year.
In December, airline passenger traffic nationwide was down about 65% from one year earlier, said Todd Dalsing, director of Dubuque Regional Airport. Although business travel is nowhere near what it was a year ago, leisure travel is slowly starting to see a resurgence.
“We have started to see an uptick of leisure travel,” he said. “Back in April, that was the worst demand. It is slowly ticking upwards, and we are hopeful with the release of the vaccine, it will help.”
Since the pandemic started, Dalsing said, people have felt more comfortable flying out of smaller airports that are less cramped and congested. At the airport in Dubuque, the experience is almost “touch-free,” he said.
“There is a lot of comfort of flying out of a smaller airport,” he said. “We have plexiglass barriers installed at the counters. We have social-distancing markings. We have the hand-sanitization stations (and) public announcements to remind everyone we are requiring facial coverings within the terminal and on the airline.”
Grover said a major priority for both the airport and the chamber as the pandemic wanes is the pursuit of regular air service to Denver.
The push received a boost in February, with the award of $775,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program.
The money could be used to help provide a “minimum revenue guarantee” that could improve the chances of initiating twice-daily flight service from Dubuque to Denver, adding a second hub to local fliers’ options.
“We want to do everything we can do to expand service,” Grover said. “Once we get past COVID, we will be well-positioned to expand service.”