It was in late February, just over seven months ago, that users of and advocates for Dubuque Regional Airport had cause to celebrate. A federal grant of $775,000 had been landed, and hopes were high that the money could be just the carrot needed to attain the elusive goal of a second airline hub.
Combined with money raised by a consortium of stakeholders, led by the airport and Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, the windfall helped the pot grow to $1.3 million to be used to court a carrier offering twice-daily flight service to Denver.
But February was a long, long time ago.
While it seemed Dubuque was on the cusp of forward momentum in local air travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt airlines a catastrophic blow. For Dubuque, that has meant the grounding of American Airlines flights in and out of the city.
American Airlines announced this summer its intention to halt flight service to Dubuque, beginning today. While the airline at first indicated flights would resume after Nov. 3, the airport now has no official date when flights will return to Dubuque. Instead, the airline will review customer demand every month to determine if it is economically viable to bring flights back.
While it is disappointing that the Dubuque airport must endure this “holding pattern,” it’s not terribly surprising. Airlines are struggling to survive the worst economic crisis in aviation history and the pandemic-related plunge in business and especially leisure travel. The airlines are really hurting, and no one can (or should) blame American.
Some industry experts predict it could take three or four years for the airline industry to recover. While this marks a major setback, we must look at the long-term view.
Silver linings are few, but they include having a beautiful and modern terminal — and having time. The pandemic won’t last forever, and neither will the economic damage. The air travel industry has already had to adapt new protocols and win back consumer confidence once in the last couple of decades. Airlines adapted to significant changes following 9/11. In time, Americans will be ready to fly again and travel the world.
Dubuque has struggled to maintain its air service in the past. But in recent years, local support for the airport has been strong. On the three daily flights from Dubuque to Chicago O’Hare and back, the number of travelers steadily climbed from 2011 to 2019.
The foundation of Dubuque’s airport has long been supportive partners in the tri-state business community and local government. As we wait out this period without service, now is the time for civic leaders and elected officials to figure out a strategy to regain service when the airlines start to come back.
For leisure travelers, Dubuque’s airport is a convenient option. For the corporate community, having a local airport is imperative to doing business.
Here’s hoping American will see Dubuque — with its beautiful new airport facility, passenger totals that had been rising and a supportive community — as a good partner for regional air travel.