Story By Bob Corbell
The storyline of Del Rio’s awkward an insatiable past of airline service has raised its head again, but maybe this time the reality will unmask the unfounded perception. This has been a hot bed of conversation over the last 30 days on KWMC. The further discussions at City Hall can only conclude one thing for certain: it will be a well spirited month of May without any need of a rented margarita machine in the hallway left over from Cinco de Mayo.
A lot has happened since 1949 when a certified airline carrier by the Civil Aeronautics Board serviced Del Rio. Air Mail Route 82, was granted to Trans Texas Airlines which flew mail, passenger, and cargo along a line stretching from Houston to El Paso with stops in between that included Uvalde, Eagle Pass, Ft Stockton, and Van Horn. By 1978, when the airline industry was deregulated, service to Del Rio became more complicated. This was mainly due to regional carriers having to create alliances with an assortment of major carriers. The majors battled rapid expansion, fare wars, and quite frankly, chaos that continued well into the 1990s. Del Rio suffered from these consequences.
There are two misconceptions that have lead to the “no mas” attitude towards any future consideration for air service in Del Rio. Most recent is the contract with Texas Sky. It was costly and did not provide through ticketing outside of DFW airport. Also there were some frequent service interruptions and the mid afternoon departures which lead to a full day of travel. The other misconception is that future airline service will be a burden to the taxpayers.
The reality that strikes the first perception is the service which Colgan Air provided between 2004 and 2012. The operating load factors were respectable during this time. The carrier suffered some insurmountable circumstances following 2009. This put the service in question. Finally the merger between Continental and United Airlines lead to the exiting of Del Rio. Not one circumstance was due to the loss of profit or load factors.
The second reality that addresses the perception as “a burden to the taxpayer” was presented before the Del Rio City Council on April 10th, 2018. After months of strategic planning mastered by City Manager Henry Arredondo and staff, the council had to decide whether to begin an agreement between the city and American Airlines to establish service as early as November. While the exact terms are still within negotiation, American would offer two flights daily between Del Rio and Dallas/Ft. Worth for two years. The presentation was almost flawless, factual, and fiscally feasible for the gold standard of the air travel industry to sprout roots in Del Rio. As Mayor Robert Garza pointed out, the funding of the bottom line dollar amount to be committed by the city is “new money”. That new money is an increase in toll fare of the International Bridge by 25 cents and a commercial rate of 50 cents per axle. This hard assessment of current funds and projections through the year of 2020 more than met the expectations. Basically American Airlines wants a 2.9 million dollar commitment over two years and a 75 percent load factor on its flights. Garza also stressed to council that American would not consider entering into the agreement unless they saw a profit. He’s right. American Airlines losses close to 400 potential Del Rio customers per week, who now travel to San Antonio and Austin while boarding a Southwest, United, or Delta aircraft. The sales tax receipts from these customers prove that fact.
Finally, the economic support from fact and general comments made from the city’s top government and business leaders are laudable to say the least. If this city wants sustainable growth for the future and a commitment from its top three job sectors; an airline service is necessary. This deal presented to the Del Rio City Council gets absolutely no better than today. Meanwhile, it’s all up in the air. Until final approval.