By Kyle Arnold
From The Dallas Morning News
American Airlines plans to drop service this spring to three more small airports served by regional carriers, citing an industry-wide shortage of pilots and “soft demand.”
American will stop flying to Del Rio International Airport in Texas near the Mexico border, Long Beach Airport in California and Columbus Airport in Georgia.
American is the only commercial airline that flies into Del Rio, meaning the city of 35,000 people near Laughlin Air Force Base won’t have any passenger service unless another carrier steps in. Laughlin is the largest pilot training base for the U.S. Air Force.
“In response to the regional pilot shortage affecting the airline industry and soft demand, American Airlines has made the difficult decision to end service in Columbus, Georgia (CSG), Del Rio, Texas (DRT) and Long Beach, California (LGB) this spring,” American Airlines spokesman Derek Walls said in a statement.
The airline said it intends to contact affected customers to “offer alternate arrangements.”
Regional airlines have been hit particularly hard by a shortage of pilots as it tries to ramp up after the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s because mainline carriers such as American and United tend to recruit from regional carriers such as Mesa and SkyWest with higher pay and better benefits.
In June, American cut flying to four cities, citing the same pilot shortage issue. Then it was to Toledo, Ohio; Dubuque, Iowa; and Islip and Ithaca in New York.
American will stop flying to Long Beach after Feb. 28 and Columbus and Del Rio after April 3.
As of Friday morning, American is still selling tickets for flights to each of those cities through Dec. 2, the latest it has published its flight schedule, according to AA.com.
American flies to Del Rio International Airport using a partner regional carrier SkyWest Airlines and flies two daily flights to DFW International Airport.
American has been the only major airline serving Del Rio since April 2013 when Chicago-based United discontinued flights to Houston Intercontinental Airport, one of that carrier’s hubs.
Del Rio Airport had about 22,500 departing passengers in 2019, according to FAA data.
Del Rio city officials did not immediately return requests for comment. In a report, the city of Del Rio said the airport supports 135 jobs and has a $19 million annual economic impact.
In Columbus, Ga., American uses its wholly-owned regional carriers PSA Airlines and Piedmont Airlines, along with SkyWest and Mesa Airlines, a regional carrier American recently cut ties with citing financial troubles. American flies to DFW Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport from Columbus, Ga.
Columbus also has service from Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, connecting to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport 83 miles away with two daily flights.
Columbus is Georgia’s fourth busiest airport with about 155,000 departing passengers a year.
American uses Skywest and Mesa for its flights into Long Beach with three daily routes to Phoenix. American is among the smaller carriers at Long Beach Airport, competing with Delta, Hawaiian and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which has about 39 daily flights to 14 destinations, including Dallas Love Field.
Long Beach was the country’s 76th busiest airport in 2019, with more than 1.7 million departing passengers.
American Airlines, which took more than $12 billion in government payroll support grants during the COVID-19 pandemic, is no longer under restrictions to keep flying to all of its destinations in the U.S. Restrictions on executive compensation limits, dividends and stock buybacks have also dropped, although Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the only airline so far to reinstate a dividend.
Last year, the city of Stillwater, Okla., and Oklahoma State University came up with a $4 million, two-year deal to keep American from dropping daily flights to the college town.
“American is willing to continue such air service only if it is able to limit its economic risk by receiving a revenue guarantee,” an agreement between the airline, the city and the university said.
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